Peace Corps - Honduras
Mike was both a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student in the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Masters International Program at Michigan Tech. Find out more about this program at http://peacecorps.mtu.edu/ .
Late October 1999.
Mike in Training.
I am now in my fourth week of training here in Honduras, and I think I am doing pretty well learning the language and getting along in this country. Our training center is in Santa Lucia, which is up in the mountains about 15 km from the edge of Tequcigalpa. It is a really nice area and Peace Corps has trained here for many years so the people are used to gringos. Every trainee lives with a family to facilitate learning the language and culture. Rosa and Gustavo are my host parents and they are super cool. When I first met then, I screwed up everything I tried to say to them. Within the first week, I was trying to explain American football to Gustavo, who kept asking "Where's the goalie?". I live in a neighborhood farthest removed from the training center, which means that I and four other trainees must walk 30 minutes up a hill to get to class every morning, and back down again after class. Its isn't particularly fun, especially so when its raining, which it usually does everyday because it is the rainy season. The first week it rained unusually hard, and it was rare that I wasn't wet after making the walk either from rain or sweat. Raincoats are useless because they make me sweat profusely. I bought an umbrella and it has served me well. I can buy just about anything here that I need or forgot, which is nice.
Training wise, we always get 4 to 6 hours of Spanish every day, at least the novice and intermediate speakers (I started at novice). In addition, we fill the rest of the day with technical or cross-cultural training. The training is 11 weeks, and we usually train Monday-Saturday. Saturday is usually not a whole day. We are getting 5 weeks of field-based training which begins the fifth week. This period will be the most technically intense.
Mitch really did a number here. It will take many years until everything gets back to the way it was before. Everywhere you go, you can still see signs of the hurricane. A few of the bridges have been replaced, but many places only have temporary ones. From what I hear, most of them probably will be there a couple of years at least. The road from Tegry to Santa Lucia (training site) has 8 places where the road is partially gone. Some of the river valleys are the most amazing. Where there used to be trees and forest, now there is just rocks and gravel. The rivers are so choked with gravel and silt, and the sewers systems are so screwed that there has been very extensive flooding since I have been here. The rains have been a little heavier than usual, but it hit hard. Many of the new bridges washed out.
Hillside farming causes deforestation and ...
One of the big things they are pushing for here now is watershed protection and soil conservation especially after Mitch. Most of the water in this country comes from small microwatersheds in the mountains. Of course, many of these watersheds have big problems, mostly related to agriculture and human habitation in the critical areas of the watersheds. People with no land are forced to farm high in the mountains. Of course tenure here is really iffy. The watersheds are usually owned by a municipality or one private owner. Very rarely does a farmer living and farming in a watershed actually own the land. It seems almost impossible to move them because most have been there a long time. Another factor, in Olancho at least, is that the farmers there all carry guns and are not really afraid to use them. Olancho has an unbelievably high murder rate - the highest in Central America, I believe. I visited a volunteer a while back, and he was threatened by a campesino who said that if anyone tried to fence off his land as part of the watershed, he would shoot them. So that adds an extra bit to consider. Of course, deforestation runs rampant in this country. Olancho is at the forefront of this phenomenon. There is an interesting story behind this. Most of the farmers that are clearing the remote forests in Olancho have been displaced from the southern region of the country, which was once the agricultural center of the country. With most farming happening in the south, Olancho and the rest of the east remained almost completely forested, except for the valleys which are prime farmland. After a couple hundred years of heavy farming pressure, most of the south became desertified due to erosion, bad farm practices, etc....Well all those farmers moved to Olancho and the east. They have continued pushing far into the far northern mountainous regions which are very remote. The frustrating thing is, many of the places the farmers are moving into are protected areas, on paper, at least. Honduras has an amazing number of national parks and protected areas, but there is no one to patrol these parks and enforce the laws because there is no money.
15 February 2000
Traditional children's dance.
Well, I am finally here at my site and getting things done. Yes, training really does bite the big one. All Field-Based training gave me a rash. The last couple of weeks I was just thinking of the end. But I ended up surviving training and surviving the swearing- in party (a real epic bash). I suppose I will begin this novel by describing my site a little. I live in a small aldea (village) called Lainez. It is within the municipality of Yuscaran (my FBT site) and the department of El Parasio. Most of the area around Lainez is mountainous upland pine forest. I have some of the history of this forest obtained by talking to some of the lifelong residents of the area. In the years past the forest was said to be much larger (more mature) than it appears today. To me, most of the forest looks pretty young with a few remnant trees every so often. The forest was not disturbed on a large-scale until the mid 60's when a logging company came and harvested a large portion of the forest, leaving very few trees behind. In addition, there was a plague of some kind that came through shortly afterwards and killed another portion of the forest. I do not know if the forest present at the time of the logging in the 60's was primary or not. It could have been, but I need to look into it more. So what it all means is most of the forest is secondary and less than 50 years in age. The climate is pretty cool compared to the rest of the country because of elevation. The lower you go, the hotter it gets. About three miles away as the crow flies is the Valle San Francisco. It is a large flat agricultural area with the Rio Choluteca running through it. The population in Lainez and the surrounding aldeas is very sparse. This is because the primary occupation is farming and there is very little arable land. Resin tapping has been important for about 25 years, and logging will become more important in the future. Lainez is situates on the top of a flat ridge and the mild slopes down to the bottom of a small valley. The primary crops are: Ta-da! Corn and beans. Other crops are: coffee, bananas and plantains, maisillo (used mostly for feeding chickens and other animals), sugar cane, some vegetables, yucca, and fruit trees (citrus, mango, etc. . . ). Of course there are lots of stupid cows roaming around everywhere. There have been a couple of agricultural assistance programs here in the past, so some of the farmers use some good advanced hillside farming techniques- contour planting, live barriers, etc. Some do not. The ones who do not use any techniques are usually the ones who have small fields in the middle of the forest. They could probably benefit the most from using these techniques, but I don't think it's quite reached them yet. Most of the farms closer to the towns are a little more advanced. The people I rent my house from and eat dinner with have a model finca intergrada. Andres has fruit trees, sugar cane (for animals), corn, beans, hogs, chickens, a fishpond, bananas, coffee and some vegetables. There is one farm of comparable diversity in an adjacent aldea called El Zarzal. As of now, I don't have any big plans to do lots of agriculture because of the quantity of forest work available Maybe in the future sometime I will try to work with some of the backwoods farmers, but we're talking months or maybe even next year. I have met a couple of these farmers in the course of working in the forest. As for my work: My primary project is going to be assisting an agroforestry cooperative called Cooperative Agroforestal Guadalupe Limitada. I will also work with Pryoecto AFOCO, which is the aid project (funded by the German group, GTZ) that assists the cooperative and is based in Yuscaran. The cooperative was formed in 1975 by campesinos who began to tap ocote pine trees (Pinus oocarpa) for resin. Resin tapping and the improvement of farming techniques have been the primary activities of the cooperatives for most o its existence. The five primary communities where most cooperative members are concentrated are: Lainez, Los Tablones, El Zarzal, Chaguite del Oriente, and Cordoncillo. These communities are also where I will be working most. Lainez has the highest population of these aldeas, and also the most cooperative members, although Tablones has gained lots of members in the last couple years. Lainez and Tablones are geographically and socially similar. They also get their water from the same source (a microwatershed near cordoncillo- 17 km away). All the aldeas have elementary schools (1st through 6th grades), but no collegio ( the Honduran equivalent of high school). Children who have finished elementary school take classes in the afternoon on the radio so they can work in the morning. Lainez in unique in that it has a very nice community center. The nearest medical clinics are in Yuscaran and Ojo de Agua. El Zarzal is located in a small valley and is much more agricultural than many of the aldeas due to better land for farming. They have their own water supply close by, and they grow lots of sugarcane in addition to the normal corn and beans. It is interesting to note that nearly all families have some sugarcane growing in their garden or yard for livestock fodder of for consumption by the family. People love to chew on chunks of sugarcane, myself included. They also concoct a homemade alcoholic beverage with sugarcane called chicha. It reminds me of hard apple cider, but not as good. Commercially grown sugarcane in this area is grown primarily in the manufacture of aquardiente, or guaro. Yuscaran produces a large proportion of the guaro in Honduras, which seems to be the consensus national drink of Honduras. It is pretty similar to rum. It's not too bad mixed with fruit juice, but most Hondurans drink'er strait baby. It is interesting to note that guaro is not exported anywhere, because it is all consumed in country as fast as it can be produced. They produce a lot. Chaquite del Oriente is only about 4-5 km away from Lainez, but it is much hotter and drier. It is considerably lower in elevation and very close (2-3 km) to the Rio Choluteca. The forest around Chaquite consists mostly of carbon, instead of pine. Carbon is a leguminous tree with spines that is adapted to hot dry places. Here in Honduras, it is usually a sign of a place that was some other kind of forest, but is now desertified. South of Yuscaran, there is a lot of carbon. The last aldea, Cordoncillo, is the farthest away and the highest in elevation. There is a lot of coffee grown in that area. Right now is the coffee harvest, so it is a pretty busy place. Near Cordoncillo is a watershed that supplies Cordoncillio, Los Tablones and Lainez with water. I have been told that there is always water, unless a pipe breaks. So that means it must be a pretty good water source.
FIRE: One concern of the cooperative is fire. Fire is a big problem, and is not used in the forest where the trees are growing. Resin tapping leaves huge scars without bark on the lower trunk which are caked with dried resin. In this condition, the trees are hugely flammable. So it is in the best interest of the cooperative to keep fire out of the forest. I am told they have fire crews on alert during the really dry months of March, April and the beginning of May. This is another thing I want to check out. I have heard a little about prescribed burns for site preparation and to reduce fuel load to prevent large fires. I don't know any details, but I will find out.
RESIN TAPPING: This is one of the things I am planning on investigating in detail in the next quarter. Most tapping happens in the summer when it is hot and the resin flows more freely. Resin tapping is done by shaving away the bark all the way to the sapwood, and collecting the sap that bleeds out of the wood in a container. There are two techniques for this. The older way they have used from the beginning is a straight line cut. They start at the bottom of the tree and make a straight diagonal cut in the bark and make about a 30-35 degree angle. A metal drip edge is nailed to the bottom of the cut to direct the resin into the cup, which is also nailed to the tree. Some kind of chemical is applied to the newly cut area to help the sap flow more freely. About two or three times a week, a new diagonal cut is made further up the tree to open up more wood. The cup is emptied as it is filled. Each cut is between .5 and .75 inches wide. The flowing sap from each successive cut must flow over all the other cuts, and much of it solidifies and never reaches the cup. Periodically, the rip edge must be repositioned further up the tree. The length of the cut is usually about ¼ the circumference of the tree. Many times this is done in three separate swaths around the tree, leaving very little bark at the base of the tree. I think it is pretty obvious what this does to the growth and health of the tree. The other technique is cutting the bark in a V-shaped notch with a vertical channel at the point of the V running down into the cup. In this technique, you start at the top and work down. Less resin is wasted because it doesn't have to flow over such a large area where it might solidify. Also, fewer nails are used because no drip edge is needed. It seems like resin tappers are living on borrowed time because most of the trees have been tapped on two or three sides already. There doesn't seem like there are many left for them to use. The people using the older technique just keep going higher up the trees. They prop logs up against the tree, and climb up. From a timber point of view, the bottom six or eight feet of the log is horribly damaged. Once the bark is removed at a spot, not more diameter growth occurs there, and the part of the trunk with bark keeps growing out. I don't know what will happen as the logging operation becomes more important and fewer trees are available for tapping. I will let you know as I learn more. Right now I don't even know if there are any rules for the resin tappers. I will find out.
SAWMILL: Right now, the cooperative is building a sawmill in Los Tablones. This is part of the effort to keep most of the profit and jobs from the forest in the communities. They are planning on having 20 to 25 people work in the sawmill operation. For the past month and a half or so, there has been a group of men form the cooperative working at the sawmill in Guayabillas, about 20 km down the road. This is to become familiar with the operation of a sawmill and gain some experience. I have worked with them a couple of days at the sawmill to gain some experience myself. I just got the stuff you sent me on safety and sawmill operation. I think they are going to be a great help because we are really starting from scratch here. My counterpart in Lainez is going to be manager of the sawmill, so we will have a lot to work on. One of my immediate concerns is safety. Not just in the sawmill, but the entire logging operation. There is lots of room for improvement. At the sawmill, they will be starting out new, so they need to take it slow and careful. They are going to need time to smooth out the operation and get everyone comfortable. I want to make sure it is safe. We are also going to work on being profitable. Eventually, I want to have one or more of business volunteer friends come help me out with that. They do not have plans to plane or dry the lumbar before selling at this time. Right now, most of the lumbar from the cooperative is sold to a furniture factory in Guayabillas. I will be visiting the plant in the next quarter a couple times to check things out. What do they make, what materials do they use, what type and grade of wood is more valuable to them, etc. Hopefully we can use that to determine some of the operational logistics of sawmill. During the second to last week of training, I was able to take a trip to ESNACIFOR, the national forestry school of Honduras in Siguatepeque. I met lots of people there and got lots of information (more on that later). They have a sawmill operation there and I met the supervisor in charge. His name is Ingeniero Jose Antonio Izaguirre. He does lots of work with small sawmills and campesino groups.
THE LOGGING OPERATION: The logging operation is basically divided up into work groups by the task. Sometimes there is a road crew when a new road is needed. There are no machines or any of that wimpy shit. Shovels and pickaxes are all that is needed. There are two chainsaw operators, and there is no separation of tasks like felling, limbing and bucking. They just work on a tree-by-tree basis, which seems to work fine. These two fellows do need some safety training, though. Since New Years, they have received lots of new safety equipment. Now they have hard hats, chaps and ear protection. We need to work on some techniques, though. They have good modern Stihl chainsaws with all the safety features. The chainsaw operators buck the logs into trozas (sawlogs) and tuncas (what we would call a pulp stick). The tuncas are six feet instead of eight. There is a place that buys these things and I don't know what they do with them yet. There is no paper mill in Honduras, so that is kind of a bummer. My one big shining accomplishment so far has been getting them to buck their logs differently. I have mentioned how terribly damaged the butt ends of trees are. They have been felling the tree, then just making the longest log possible from the butt end, even though it included this monstrosity at one end. Beyond the monstrosity, it might be a beautiful, high-grade log. When I was at the sawmill, I saw how much the damaged end could reduce the yield on an otherwise nice sawlog. I pointed out if they made a tunca, or an eight-foot low-grad sawlog out of the first six or eight feet, they'd be left with a much higher-quality log afterward. They agreed and the change was implemented. I wrote it down in my journal and on my calendar, a truly momentous occasion. The next major work area is the skidding of the logs. This is done with oxen and chains. It's not high-tech, but it works and doesn't damage the soil too much. For the tuncas, they have these four-wheeled carts designed to haul small logs. They can move between 15-25 tuncas at once with the Honduran version of the forwarder. Not bad. Right now, the cooperative has three teams of oxen, and they keep up with the chainsaws pretty well, depending on the terrain. I have worked a few times with the bueyeros, as the guys that handle the oxen are called. So I can now drive a Honduran skidder and forwarder. The cargadores load the trozas and tuncas on the trucks using only long poles for ramps, cant hooks, and brute force. They have gotten pretty good at it though. They have made great improvements in speed, safety, and efficiency ever since I have been here. The last people to come through a site are the silvicultores. They wack down the very small marked trees with machetes and chop them into six-foot pieces for firewood. The same is done with the larger tops with useable pieces. All branches and tops are chopped into smaller pieces and placed in small piles and left. Most of the firewood is sold to the large commercial coffee dryers in Danli, one of the large coffee growing centers nearby. They finish the thinning of the very small trees. After the bueyeros pick up the firewood and haul it to the road, the job is complete. Including the small crew working at the sawmill right now, there are about 40 people working in the logging operation. There is lots of room for improvement, especially safety. The small project I am getting moving on right now is first aid training for the workers. Proyecto AFOCO has a bunch of first aid kits, but they sit in the office in Yuscaran. I am talking to the Red Cross and the hospital in Yuscaran, and also with the health care volunteer, Gabe, close by in Ojo de Agua. Between myself and all these people, we should be able to give the workers some good short courses in first aid in the field as related to logging.
EDUCATION: I am planing on doing a lot of stuff with environmental education and similar topics related to the work of the cooperative. I want to work with the escuela kids and the high-school aged kids on the environmental education and also forest-management related topics. I want the people in these communities to know how and why the cooperative does what it is does, especially the young people. They are going to be the ones managing the forest in the future, so it is important that they have an understanding. It will be hard to get the collegio-aged kids together to talk to them, but I'm looking into it. I would also like to do some similar work with the women of the community. Pryoecto AFOCO has women's groups in all the aldeas, so I can work with them. This is going to be a ton of work, so I'm taking it poco a poco. I've talked a lot about this to the people and the AFOCO people also. They like it. The other side of this is going to be education outside the five communities, especially in Yuscaran. Hardly anyone outside the communities has any idea what the cooperative does except cut trees. The perception is a bad one. People have the perception that they are just cutting down all the trees, and the campesinos are getting rich selling the lumber. Absolutely not true. The perception is good and bad. It is good because people are somewhat environmentally aware and actually seem to care about the forest and the environment. On the other hand, the concept of management and sustainability are pretty unheard of here and they don't know the difference between management and exploitation. These people are very used to hearing about people illegally mowing down thousands of acres of rainforest in the national parks and preserves. So, I am going to attempt to teach the people in Yuscaran about the cooperative and forest management. I will concentrate on the community leaders at first. There is a new NGO in Yuscaran called Fundacion Yuscaran. They are working an a large variety of concerns of the community. The goal of the group is the overall development of the community. If they are informed, then they can pass it on to others. I am looking into someone form the cooperative to help me with the work outside the communities. I have been to a Foundation meeting, and told them what we would like to do. Part of it is to take groups of people out to physically show them what's going on so they can see for themselves and ask questions. It's going to take a while to develop, but it should help a lot in the end. It will be much easier for the cooperative to function if it has the support of the surrounding communities.
May 15, 2000
Oh, how the time flies! I can't believe I already have to write another one of these. The weeks are just flying by. Friday always surprises me. Is it Friday already? I haven't even DONE anything this week! That is usually not true, but it can seem that way sometimes. I'm still not doing tons of work, but I am continuing to gather information and meet people. I am getting really excited about my Master's project idea.
One peculiar quirk about being a volunteer in the Yuscarán area is that officials from foreign agencies or governments always want to come visit. The reason for this is that it is a nice little colonial town less than two hours away from Teguz. As a result, I have had the opportunity to meet some interesting people. The first visitor was the Peace Corps World Director, Mark Schneider. He came the weekend of Valentine's Day. He was mainly interested in seeing the work of Anne-Marie, the Crisis Corps volunteer. I did get to talk to him for a little while. A couple days later, Ron Savage, the Peace Corps Environmental Officer for the Central America and Caribbean region visited also. He wasn't encumbered by a large entourage of people, so it was a little more fun. We also got to talk a lot more about Peace Corps stuff. Then the U.S. Ambassador, Frank Almaguer visited at the end of March. It was basically a diplomatic schmooze mission in the entire department of El Paraiso. Anne-Marie and I were invited, though. We got free lunch, so that was cool.
I have visited Cordoncillo a couple times. It is one of the aldeas I am supposedly assigned to. It is also the farthest away. At a Foundation meeting, I met a guy named Ricardo Navarro from Cordoncillo. After talking to him for a while, I learned that he is in charge of the vivero(nursery) for the cooperative. So I arranged to go see the vivero. It wasn't anything too exciting. Just your average vivero. It is fairly large, though. They have about 12,000 pine seedlings this year. The people that maintain the vivero are not actually cooperative members. The cooperative has to pay COHDEFOR 82 Lempiras for every cubic meter of wood they harvest. COHDEFOR then pays the vivero group for every seedling to be planted. The cooperative then has to transport the seedlings and plant them. This is all part of the arrangement in the management plan between the cooperative and COHDEFOR. Ricardo is also a member of a sugar cane cooperative in Cordoncillo. I went and visited this cooperative while they were harvesting and grinding sugar cane one day. It was a pretty neat process. They cut the cane with machetes and then haul it to the grinding area with mules. The cane is run through a machine that squishes all the juice out. The juice(jugo de caña) is then boiled down to syrup(miel de caña). It is almost exactly the same as boiling down maple sap to make syrup. When the syrup reaches a certain thickness, it is poured into a trough and stirred around until it cools a bit. They then put this gooey stuff into square molds that harden into 5 lb. blocks of raw sugar. I was goaded into tasting every phase of this process. They had a bunch of bananas hanging into the boiling miel for about 3 hours. I got to eat one of these bananas. Pure sweet candy. I think that was the most sugar I have ever consumed in an afternoon ever. It's no wonder most Hondurans have terrible teeth. You can almost feel them beginning to rot away after a couple hours of taste-testing.
I went to visit the Esquela Agricola Panamericana in Zamorano with a couple other volunteers. It is one of the most respected agricultural schools in Latin America. We took a small tour to see some of their programs and operations. To my surprise, I learned they have a sawmill at the school, although it doesn't operate much. They have an old 52-inch circular headrig which is hardly used anymore. They also have a Wood-Mizer portable band saw mill. I had read all of the portable sawmill handbook you sent me with great interest, and so I was stoked that Zamorano had one.
Another field trip I made was to visit the furniture plant in Guayabillas. Guayabillas is not too far away, and it is where the cooperative sells most of its wood. I had met the owner of the plant, Mike Rodriguez, a couple weeks before when he gave me a ride in his phat Land Rover. The plant is divided into two major operations. One is a mill producing broom and mop handles from palillos(1"x1" sticks of various lengths). Palillos are an important part of sawmill operations here because there is no paper industry. Hence, palillos are the only way to utilize slabs and flitches. The other part of the operation is a factory producing furniture. Right now, they are producing baby cribs. For wood, they buy cants and regular boards. They have a really nice band resaw to process the cants into 1 or 11/4 inch boards. Palillos, cants, and boards are paid for by the board foot. Mike and his right-hand guy, Sylvio, have helped the cooperative out a bit with some set-up at the sawmill.
Mike with a tree fern.
A few COHDEFOR tecnicos came to mark some of the rodales for thinnings during February. I went along with them to observe a little. There were four tecnicos and a crew of assorted cooperative members. There were four "teams", with one tecnico per team. Two of the teams marked all the high-quality trees to be saved until the final harvest with white paint. The other two teams marked trees to be taken in the first cutting with blue marks. Here is the strange part: this is all done by estimation. There is no actual measuring to determine the basal area or density to see how much will be left after the cut. They do record the diameter of each blue-marked tree. The height and percent of defects is recorded for every fifth blue tree. This "guestimation" seems a little off-the-wall, but the rodales usually look pretty good after the thinning. Two COHDEFOR guys I met from the marking crew were Izacio Rivas and Hermes Rivera. Izacio works at the Danlí office, and Hermes works at the very small Ojo de Agua office.One of the stipulations in the cooperative's management plan is that they maintain forest fire protection crews. I mentioned in the last report that it is absolutely necessary to keep fire away from the trees that have resin scars, as they are very flammable. There are three teams, and at least one of them has been busy since February. I have never seen so many fires in all my life. At night, you can see the hillsides around you burning. I went and visited a friend waaaay out in Olancho once. It was night, and we were riding on top of the bus. We came around a corner into a steep-sided valley, and both sides were burning! It was like entering the gates of hell or something. In the black of night, with orange hot flames rising on both sides of you. The teams are responsible for an area much larger than the cooperative's management area. This is another strange arrangement, but a good one. The cooperative only pays for one of the teams. The municipality of Yuscarán pays for one, and COHDEFOR pays for another. They cover almost the entire municipality of Yuscarán. I have gone out and fought fires with them a couple of times. It is actually really fun. Once there was a fire very close to Laínez, and I helped with that also.
Project AFOCO is going to start a series of training for the various groups in the cooperative. Supposedly, they will be leaving next year around this time, so they are trying to "finish up" I suppose. They are going to do a lot about the business end of managing the cooperative and sawmill. I have volunteered to do much of the work with the sawmill, especially the operation end of it. The material you sent about sawmills has been really helpful. The last couple weeks we have been making barriers and safety devices for the mill. Since there was no initial planning for the layout of the mill, there are many problems with the flow and accumulation of materials. Right now, there really isn't enough space under the roof that they have. I'm trying to convince them to put up some more roof. We'll see. The sawyer from the sawmill in Guayabillas has been helping a great deal with the operation of the headrig. He is also training one of the cooperative members to be the sawyer. We are going to develop maintenance schedules and checklists for the sawmill equipment. I think we will establish some safety rules also. This should keep me pretty well occupied for a while. If I find a really well-run sawmill in one of my visits, I would like to bring some of the sawmill workers to see it and learn from it. I am also going to contact Ing. Izaguirre at ESNACIFOR and see if he can come and see our mill.
15 September 2000
This is a very wet Mike Jones reporting to you not-so-live from Honduras. Actually, I'm not wet right now, but I was very wet a couple hours ago when I was doing the hour walk down to the highway and got soaked by a sudden cloudburst. It's just one of the facts of like now that we are entering the really rainy part of the rainy season. I usually carry a poncho for just such occasions, but for some reason, I forgot it this morning. Small unfortunate events bother me less and less the more time I spend here. Whether it pertains to work or everyday life, I have largely come to accept the fact that things will almost never go exactly as you planned or would like them to go.
Mike on La Picucha.
I recently took about a week and a half bumming around Olancho visiting other volunteers and backpacking. We went to Parque Nacional Sierra de Agalta and did the epic climb up La Picucha. La Picucha is the highest mountain in eastern Honduras, and it usually takes four days to climb up and down. During the journey, you pass through about eight different forest types, which was pretty interesting to see. Due to the complete lack of any infrastructure like signs or maps and the fact that we didn't hire a guide, we were completely lost the whole first day of our journey. We followed what we thought was the trail down to the bottom of this beautiful forested valley where the trail abruptly ended. We were soaking our feet in the stream and thinking of our next move when two campesinos appeared out of the woods. We tell them we are trying to get to La Picucha. "Pués, entonces están bien perdidos!"(Well then you guys are really lost!) It turned out OK because they showed us where to go and they got to laugh at the silly gringos. On the third morning of the trip, we were camped about a two-hours walk from the summit. It was really misty because we were in the middle of a cloud. As I was brushing my teeth, I noticed something shooting up a tree close to our camp. On closer inspection, we found that there were about eight white-faced monkeys in a couple trees very near our tent. It was so cool to see them in their natural habitat high in the misty cloud forest. We sat and watched them watch us for about twenty minutes. Anyway, we had a good time and actually made it back in spite of being lost a couple more times after the first day.
Mike at Pulhapanzak Falls.
Last week, we had our second In-Service Training. My sector went to camping at a place called Laguna San Julián. This is one of the sites of the National Environmental Camps program here. It is a really neat program that some volunteers have been involved in. They have several camps in different places in the country where groups (mostly kids) come for a weekend and learn about the environment. Anyway, we thought it would be fun to have our training there instead of in some town. We had sessions on funding for projects (in and outside of Peace Corps), protected areas, ecotourism, and fruit tree grafting. We also built a "fogon mejorado," which is a high-efficiency wood-burning cook stove. I got good and muddy for that one because the fogon is made of mud and bricks mostly. I was already pretty muddy due to the torrential rains that pummeled us for the entire first day and night (the tent I slept in was NOT waterproof). The training was a pretty good one, though. It was great to talk to the other people from my sector about their experiences so far. We all agreed that the time is whizzing by too fast.
The week before In-Service, I was helping out with a thinning of a regeneration stand in the coop's management area. Most of the trees were between 1.5 and 4 inches DBH. Of course, the density was pretty high. I helped the coordinators and the workers determine the right intensity to thin the stand. Initially, they weren't taking enough. AFOCO might buy some prisms for the workers or coordinators to use in these thinnings. It would be an easy quick way to see if you have thinned sufficiently. There were some open spaces in the regeneration stand without trees growing. In these areas, they planted seedling from the vivero. This is the first non-commercial thinning of a large plot that the cooperative has done so far. It is done now, and it looks very good. I believe they have some more similar stands they will treat in the same way.
Toward the end of July, I finally finished my little first aid class that I started months and months ago. Sometime after the last report, I decided to change the format of the class because of the difficulty, no impossibility of getting so many people in the same place at the same time. We chose five people to participate who were really interested in doing the course. There was at least one representative from each work group in the cooperative. We planned on doing 14 hours of instruction and a 2-hour field excercise/test at the end. After many cancellations and reschedulings, we manged to finish. For me it was a great lesson in patience. It also helped me accept the fact that NOTHING ever happens exactly as you plan it here. Just gotta accept that. If something does happen exactly right, do a dance and sing a song of happiness!
On May 27, the cooperative had its annual general assembly. They elected a new junta directiva(board of directors) this year, so it was a big (and long) event. It went about as well as one could expect of a meeting consisting of over 100 people who all want to say something. The junta directiva consists of a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and two vocales(kind of like representatives). The new president is Jorge Nolasco, one of the management plan coordinators from the cooperative. I know Jorge and the rest of the junta members pretty well, so we might do some projects later. They also elected a new junta vigilancia, which is a group of three elected cooperative members who watch over the junta directiva. The junta vigilancia is elected every year, while junta directiva members have a two-year term. One other important decision that was made at the assembly was for the cooperative to become a member of EMCAH. EMCAH is an association of agroforestry cooperatives with the purpose of marketing their products better. I will be talking about EMCAH in detail later.
The week before the assembly, I had been helping to write the maintenance schedules and procedures for the sawmill machinery and motors. Included in this lovely task was translating part of the owner's manuals for the two diesel motors used at the mill. Let's just say that translating technical materials is not very stimulating. It did keep me busy for a few days, and I learned some good vocabulary.
Last month I participated in an evaluation of the monitoring system of the cooperative. The evaluation was conducted by AFOCO and myself in the aim of identifying weaknesses and suggesting imporvements. It was actually pretty interesting. The system in place now is not too bad. There were some problems, though. Many of them had to do with the way the information was collected and if it was used at all or looked at. In most cases, the coordinators do most of the recording of important data. We are looking into training some of the workers to keep records of the work they do to decrease the workload of the coordinators. This is especially important with materials entering and leaving the sawmill. At this point, they are still trying to improve the quality and production of the mill, so knowing exatly what enters (volume and quality of logs) and what leaves (volume and quality of cants, boards, and palillos) is very important for implementing improvements or changes. One issue addressed by the evaluation was the fact that most cooperative members are very uninformed about what is going on with the cooperative. Whether concerning the junta directiva, resin or wood production, activities concerning the management plan, etc, almost none of the members have any knowledge of the happenings within the cooperative. This can lead to unrest when people find out about somehting that has been going on for some time. This is especially pertinent between the members associated with resin production and those in the timber operation. The resineros are usually the least informed of the cooperative members because theirs is a more sedentary activity as opposed to the mill workers or the coordinators. So, we thought it might be a good idea to start putting out a bulletin outlining the activities and accomplishments of the cooperative every three months or so. It would be a cooperative effort between myself, the junta directiva, and the coordinators. We haven't decided to do it yet, but it is probable.
Another project I am sort of involved in is a short course on accounting and financial management that the AFOCO personnel are giving to some cooperative members. They are mostly members of the junta directiva, junta vigilancia, and the coordinators. I am mosly just sitting in on the classes to learn a little myself, since I know absolutely nothing about managing money or accounting. The course is just about over, and it has been very helpful for the participants, It has also been helpful for me. I have learned about and discussed some of the financial problems that the cooperative has faced since I have been here. This is definitely a big issue to be familiar with in order to understand the status and operation of this and other cooperatives. Financial management is very important for them if they want to be successful. I'm not sure, but it seems to me that this is a skill that most of the coops don't have in great quantity. It's definitely something I will be asking about in my visits to other coops.
On the 7th and 8th of August, I was given the opportunity to visit a large sawmill with some of the workers from our sawmill. The visit was intended as a learning experience and to perhaps get some ideas for imporving our mill. There were four workers from the mill, myself, and Francisco Borjas(one of my counterparts). The mill we visited is called Aserradera Las Lamas, and it is located just outside of Danlí about two hours from Yuscarán. It is owned by the largest lumber company in Honduras. So obviously, this mill was quite different from ours. For primary sawing, they have two band headrigs. I don't know the production capacity, but it's a lot. I was surprised at the low level of mechanization they had. They still had workers who rolled the logs onto the carriage and three men who rode the carriage operating the dogs and the knee advance. All of the lumber produced at this mill is exported to the U.S. Most of the production is 2-inch thick dimension lumber. The green lumber is shipped to the company's processing center in Tegucigalpa to be dried, planed, and treated. This center serves a number of other sawmills that the company owns. From asking questions and observing, I got a number of ideas from this visit that I want to try at our mill. One is producing 2-inch dimension lumber instead of cants. This would be especially applicable for the samller logs that we saw. As it is, we make cants our of all of our logs. The problem is, it takes roughly the same amount of time to process a 7" or 8" log as it does to process a 12" one. The yield for the smaller logs is much lower, of course. On many small logs , we only get a 4"x4" cant out of it, sometimes less. It usually takes about 10-14 passes of the carriage and three turns to make a cant. This is quite a bit of time, especially if you are only getting a 4x4 out of it. To process the same log into 2-inch boards, it can take as little as 5-7 passes and only one turn. The only problem is that our mill does not have an edging saw yet to make boards using this method. I would like to try it out sometime and compare the yield and time consumed for making cants and boards. This might have to wait until December or January because the rain is making it difficult to harvest right now. The sawmill has been inactive for over two weeks.
Another thing we are going to work on is improving the accuracy of the sawyers. Right now, we have more variation in our lumber than is desirable. Most is oversized, which means wasted material. Part of the problem lies in that there is never anyone checking the dimensions of the lumber coming off the end of the line. If we did this even one or two hours a day and had the checker report to the sawyer when there were accuracy problems, I believe the accuracy would improve a great deal. The fact that Las Lamas sells exclusively to the export market makes me wonder if it would be possible to get better prices by exporting. This is a question being looked into by the people at EMCAH.
I suppose I should say a little about EMCAH now. EMCAH stands for Empresa de Transformación y Comercialización Agroforestal de Honduras. It was originally formed in 1998 as a business alliance between four cooperatives in the department of El Paraiso. The idea was that the coops could better market their products if they worked together. I believe that originally the emphasis was the marketing of pine resin, which is the most common activity of the cooperatives. A big problem with the resin market here is that there is now only one company that buys and processes resin. There used to be four separate companies, but they consolidated into one company about two years ago I believe. Since they have no competition, they are free to pay very little for the resin. Since 1998, the number of cooperatives associated with EMCAH has more than doubled, and they have begun exporting resin to a company in Guatemala at a higher price. EMCAH recieves technical assistance from the Dutch FAO project ADECAF.
Mike at Copan.
I remember being told many times by current and returned volunteers that I would probably have at least one really tough time during my service where I would be depressed and not accomplish much. For a long time, I thought it wasn't going to happen. Then October arrived, and things pretty much shut down. This basically lasted until I came left Honduras to come home for the holidays. The cooperative was not operating for over two months, and neither was I. I think the fact that I was planning on coming home didn't help any. Everyone here talks about the "1-year depression". Lots of other people from my training group were on the skids also. On a positive note, I had a great time while I was home for the holidays. I was able to spend time with lots of family and friends I had not seen since coming to Honduras. I spent a lot of time with my best friend from high school who returned from Peace Corps Gambia in November '99. He graduated from Tech the same year I graduated from Albion, and he left for Africa the July after graduating. It was great to be able to talk to a good friend about the Peace Corps experience. From the stories he told me, the Peace Corps experience in Africa is much different from that which I have in Honduras. Things are much tougher over there it seems. He got sick fairly often with some pretty nasty illnesses. In fact, he was medically separated six months prior to his COS date because he got encephalitis. Anyway, we had tons to talk about the whole time we hung out.
Since returning from my visit to the states, things have been completely the opposite of what they were right before I left. It took me a week or so to get settled in again, but I'm busy as hell right now. The cooperative and the sawmill are working full steam ahead right now, and they have asked me for help in specific areas. I am enthusiastic and moitivated again. I guess I just needed a break from the Hondo life. Now when I think about things, it doesn't seem like I have enough time to get everything done. I'll talk more about that later. There really isn't much to report as far as things I did in the last quarter, but I'll give you the rundown and tell about the things I am currently doing and have planned for the near future.
I helped Susan (volunteer in Yuscarán) with a couple environmental education charlas she did. She has been working with Fundación Yuscarán on a watershed project in the Monserrat Biological Reserve. As part of this, she is doing EE charlas in the schools in some of the small communities within the buffer zone of the reserve. She asked me to come with her to some of the more remote communities because they require 2-4 hours of walking to arrive. She didn't want to go all that way by herself, so she wanted me to come with her. She planned out the charlas mostly, but asked me to help with some aspects. I went with her three times. The topics we covered were medio ambiente(what is the environment?), garbage, and we planted some trees the third time. The two communities we visited were Bachán and La Granadilla. They are located way up the mountain that is adjacent to Yuscarán. Of course, they are very poor communities that grow coffee and basic grains on the steep sides of the mountain. The schools in these communities are less than five years old.
In October, Project AFOCO began to do an inventory of the Coop's management area to assess the extent of resination that has taken place there. They want to know which areas have been the most heavily used, and the potential for more resin collection. Basically, there is some friction within the coop between the resineros and the timber operation. In areas where the coop is doing harvests, they are asking the resineros to not collect resin from the trees left, especially the smaller ones. The reasoning is that they want to limit resin collecting to the five years before a tree is harvested to that the trunk does not become grossly deformed from the scars that result. The trees can be very heavily tapped 3-4 years prior to harvest without servere deformation of the trunk. The plan is to have the resineros tap the trees that are marked to be harvested in the few years immediately prior to harvest. They want to know the current state of affairs so that they can try to plan some changes to resination practices in an intelligent way that doesn't alienate the resineros from the timber operation.
The inventory is being carried out in the following manner: For each rodal(cutting unit) of the management area, they are recording all the trees over 10 cm DBH. The DBH is recorded and it is noted whether or not the tree has been tapped, and the number of sides tapped if it has been used. The merchantable height of every 5th tree is recorded. The goals of the inventory and the actions taken afterwards are:-determine the number of trees being tapped and the extent they have been tapped-determine the number of suitable untapped trees now and a projection for the future-stop tapping trees less than 30 cm DBH-determine which zones are most heavily tapped, so they can be harvested to
*promote new growth-develop a long-term plan for resin collection
*prevent over-tapping of any one area
*prevent excessive damage to trees and forest
*promote symbiosis between resin collection and timber harvesting
After the inventory, the results will be presented to the resineros, AFOCO, and the junta directiva of the coop. From that point, they want to discuss the best way to resolve the issues that present themselves. As of now, the inventory has stopped. I think they have completed about 1/3 of the inventory. The project somehow ran out of money last year, so they had to stop for a while. I know that they want to start over again, but it will be at least March before they start again. If they manage to finish the inventory before the end of my service, I will be involved with the steps taken afterwards to address the problems that arise.
At the end of October, the coop's fire protection brigade started doing some controlled burns in parts of the management area. The areas had not been burned in over 15 years, and there was a great accumulation of underbrush and pine needles that they wanted to reduce. In preparation for the burns, they cut meter-wide lines roughly ten meters apart, then burned in between. These ten-meter swaths divide larger sections of forest that will be burned individually. I have never seen a controlled burn in the States, but I assume the process is similar. The cooperative helped train some other fire brigades from nearby communities while they were doing the burns. The brigades were being trained as part of Project PROCUENCAS. The funding from this project came from USAID in response to Mitch. The Escuela Agricola Panamericana at Zamorano is administering the project. Their main objective is to manage and protect community watersheds. They have been doing work in the municipalities of Yuscarán, Oropolí, Morocelí, and Guinope. Forming fire protection brigades was one of their goals for protecting the watersheds. Because the coop has lots of years of experience in fire fighting, they helped train the PROCUENCAS groups.
There is a man who lives in Yuscarán who owns land in Laínez I have gotten to know pretty well. He has two small cattle haciendas near Laínez, and he gives me rides sometimes when he is coming and going to his haciendas. His name is Juan Luís Raudales. He invited me to come and see his hacienda in the valley of the Rio Choluteca called Zaracate. On his property, he has some springs that he uses to water his cattle. In recent years, the springs have prduced less water. The area is mostly carbón trees now, and the cattle drink directly from the spring. He expressed interest in reforesting the area above the springs with Spanish Cedar and Mahogany. He wanted my help in determining how to go about it. The whole area used to be dry forest consisting of mahogany and cedar. He still has areas with these trees in the zone near the river that is very inaccessible. My idea was to use seeds from these trees to grow seedlings for the reforestation. The seeds don't drop until April, and we want to start the nursery now so that the seedlings will be ready to plant in May or June. So we have decided to use outside seeds for a smaller vivero this year. We will collect seeds this April so that he can raise seedlings from native stock on his own next year. I have also asked some of the people I know from the nearby community of Chaguite Oriente if they are interested in doing a nursery to reforest one of their small watersheds. Chaguite doesn't really have a water system. They just have several small springs that are slowly drying up like those of Juan Luís. I just asked them last week if they want to do it, but I think they will because there are some motivated people in the community. If they want to do it, we will have to decide which spring they want to protect, and how many trees they want to start with.
Another new thing happening in Yuscarán is that we have a new Municipal Development volunteer. Dan Neely swore in with the new East group in December, so he has only been here a short while. So far I really like him. He is going to do most of his work with the municipality and Fundación Yuscarán. This past week Dan said something pretty profound to me: "You know? This volunteer thing involves a whole lot of waiting doesn't it?" Amen, brother. I got a kick out of that. Anyway, Dan will be part of the Yuscarán gringo community now.
The week of November 20th was the All-Volunteer Conference in Lago de Yojoa. It was both informative and fun. During the day, we had sessions on lots of general volunteer issues like health and safety. We also had sector-specific sessions. Most of the stuff we covered for the natural resources sector didn't apply too much to my work because the majority of NR volunteers work in environmental education. It was still good to be able to compare experiences with other PCV's. As you can probably guess, there was a good deal of merry-making after the sessions ended in the afternoon. Just picture over 200 PCV's in a phat hotel with a pool and its own disco. One of the ideas that I was able to discuss with some of the other NR volunteers is doing a workshop for volunteers who work or would like to work with agroforestry cooperatives. This is one of the things I am working on organizing right now. Jorge(my APCD) and I did a proposal and sent it to Washington this last week. We should know in a month or so if we will get the funding. There are about eight volunteers who are currently working with coops, have a coop in their site, or are working with a group that is trying to organize themselves into a coop. The volunteers will be invited along with a counterpart. We are also going to invite couple of other people who work for agencies or projects that are involved with the cooperatives. We want to invite someone from COHDEFOR, FEHCAFOR, Project AFOCO, Project ADECAF, and EMCAH. Right now, it looks like it will be mostly a discussion format. I want to cover what issues they think are most vital to the cooperatives, and what the role of PCV's and the aid projects should be. If we get the funding, we will ask the participants in the invitations what subjects they would like to cover. I think there is a great potential interaction because of the variety of viewpoints that will be represented. There will be older well-organized cooperatives, at least one cooperative that is struggling, and a couple that are newly formed or aren't even cooperatives officially yet. It should be especially beneficial for the new cooperatives to be able to talk with those who have a lot more experience. The workshop would not take place until April at the very earliest. I will report progress in the next report.
Now I will give a small update on the status of the cooperative that I work with. Overall, they are doing really well right now. The sawmill has been operating at full steam ahead for a couple of months now. There was a long time that the timber cutting and sawmill operation of the coop was completely stopped between September and December. There was maybe three weeks worth of work accomplished in that time period. The reasons were many and complicated. Basically, the coop ran out of money because of late payments by some of their clients. The coop has learned a great deal about the importance of clients and client relations. Now most of the money issues are solved and they have been operating very steadily since the middle of December.
One of the really big improvements in the sawmill operation has been the new sawyer. After about two weeks of work stoppage, the first sawyer got a job at another small sawmill. This turned out to be a blessing. This individual wasn't really willing to learn or improve once he had a couple months of experience. There was low quality and low productivity. The person that they chose to replace him is Santos Sierra, whom I have mentioned in previous reports. Santos is at least a 100% improvement. He is basically a more all-together person. The most marked difference is that he is really in charge. He has a really good grasp on personnel management. He makes sure that everyone knows what his job is and that everyone stays busy. The coordinators for the timber operation(Jorge Nolasco and Reynaldo Solórzano) have also improved a lot in this aspect. One event happened not too long ago that really showed the improvement in the management. Last week, part of the starter failed in the morning so they couldn't start the motor. This was Saturday. They sent the starter to Danlí, and had it back and running by Tuesday. This was all without the help of AFOCO. If the same thing had happened four months ago, they would have been stopped for at least two weeks. They are operating mostly independent from AFOCO now. There are still things to improve, but they have come a long way.
Right now, I am working with the mill on the monitoring system. They want to start keeping detailed records on the materials entering and leaving the sawmill. They are to the point now that they want to know the daily production and yield for the mill. On the computer I made some tally sheets for sawlogs entering the mill, sawn lumber leaving, and daily yield. It will take a couple weeks to get that really rolling. Another thing that I will be doing in the near future is a market study for the cooperative. Basically I am going to visit a bunch of lumber yards, furniture makers, and carpentry shops to try and find new clients for the cooperative to sell wood to. It has really become apparent that having lots of options for clients is a good thing. They want to see if they can find a buyer for #1 grade lumber, among other things. A better price is always nice if you can find it also. We are also thinking about doing some local advertising for lumber sales. We are starting this next week. We are going to start by just making a one-page flyer that we can post in Yuscarán and some of the surrounding towns and communities. We´ll see if that drums up more business from the locals. They also want to build a sign for the sawmill at the intersection where our road meets the highway.
One more interesting thing I wanted to mention was that the coop did a harvest on private land near the management area recently. COHDEFOR did the surveys and helped with figuring out the prices. They bought 100 m3, and are interested in talking to some of the other private landowners in the area. Apparently, things were satisfactory for all those involved. It will be interesting to see if they do more of this in the future.
As far as my research project goes, I have done nothing in the last quarter really. I am planning on visiting another cooperative in March. It is the coop in mentioned in the last report that has had all the problems. I have talked to the volunteer at that site, and he says I can come out anytime. A natural resources volunteer named Chris Schipper in the West region has been talking to me about visiting his site. He has a group that wants to start a coop. I think it would be great to be able to talk with them and possibly help out. Chris would definitely participate in the workshop. I also really want to go to ESNACIFOR again, especially to look for some articles in their library. I don't think I have time for that until April maybe. We´ll see how things go. I read the chapter you sent me from that book. It was some eally good reading. It cited lots of articles that I would like to look at. They look like articles that deal more with the social and political aspects of forestry in the tropics. I definitely need to look more into those areas.
I am still very enthusiastic about my project, even though I haven't accomplished much toward that end lately. You mentioned after my last report the possibility of extending my service beyond the normal period of two years. I had actually been thinking about that possibility before that even. I had a brief conversation with my APCD about it, and the possibility is definitely there. If I stay, it will be to work more on a regional or national level. In talking with groups like FEHCAFOR and EMCAH, they have expressed some interest in projects that we could collaborate on. So I'm thinking about it. If the workshop happens, it would be a good opportunity to talk further with some people about possible projects. Of course, it would be a great opportunity for gathering more data for my project and possibly expanding the scope a little. I just don't know for sure right now. I will probably make that decision sometime in August or September.
Hoo boy, time's a flyin by! But what else is new? I was talking to my APCD the other day about whether I wanted a replacement at my site. What? You want to know now? Am I really supposed to leave in four months? Things have remained more or less busy lately. If I''m not working, I have been on vacation. I recently took trips to Mt. Celaque in the West, Guatemala, and the Mosquito Coast. La Moskitia was by far the best traveling I have done here. What an incredibly beautiful, bizarre place! I finally got to see the steamy jungle of Central America. Before coming to Honduras, I had believed that all of Central América was a steamy jungle. Just goes to show the large difference between preconcieved notions and reality.
The project I have worked the hardest on recently has been my vivero/reforestation project with Juan Luis Rodales and the community of Chaguite Oriente. We got a bit of a late start planting the viveros, but we were able to collect a lot of seeds from local sources. I went to Zaracate(Juan Luís' hacienda) to look for the cedro and caoba(mahogany) trees he said were down close to the river. We ended up finding the trees, and what do you know, they were just starting to drop seeds. We went back a few days later and collected a whole sack of caoba seed pods and some cedro seeds as well.! We also collected guanacaste and red acacia seeds from trees in Chaguite for the viveros.
A group of college students from Sewanee (the University of the South) in Tennessee spent a week in Laínez doing projects with the Episcopal Church. I spent a few days with them helping to build some latrines in Chaguite. It was a good chance to arrange all the details for the viveros. Chaguite basically has four water sources. The springs are called El Chaguite, Pie de la Cuesta, Quebrada de Agua, and Pozo de Frijolar. The first three actually have small dams and water pipes that service houses. The Pozo is just a spring where people get water some of the time. We decided that it would be best to do a few smaller viveros close to the watersheds rather than one large one for the entire community. That way, more people would learn how to start and maintain a vivero, and the trees wouldn't have to be carried far to plant.
Initially, we did six viveros in and around Chaguite totalling about eight hundred plants. The species we planted were all wood-producing species. Later, we are planning on doing a second set of viveros for fruit trees. I have been arranging with some people from the Agriculture school at Zamorano to do some fruit tree grafting. We are going to do grafts with mangos, avocados, and citrus trees. I am hoping to get started soon because the mango and avocado seeds are now widely available. So! me of the fruit trees will be planted in the watersheds, and the majority will be to plant in people's home gardens. We are also going to do grafting in Laínez with some of the farmers there.
Since planting the seeds, things have gone pretty well. Two of the six viveros have not worked. The one we planted near Pozo de Frijolar is ruined because the spring dried up less than two weeks after planting. I guess that tells you how badly off this watershed is. I would say it is the worst in Chaguite. Later, it rained consistently for about a month, and the guanacaste and caoba seedlings in this vivero all managed to survive. Another small vivero I did with a family was totally destroyed by the families little piglets. I don't know what was so attractive about eighty plastic bags filled with dirt, but it looked like they had a grand old time. After I saw what they had done, I went over and gave the piglets a good scolding. The family got a kick out of that. The four remaining viveros are doing very well though. Right now, most of the trees are ready to plant, but it has been very dry. In fact, most of Honduras has been experiencing a drought for over two months. This is a time that it usually rains. We have had at least a little rain around Yuscaràn, but many parts of the country have not gotten a drop. Of course, everyone planted their corn and beans when it started raining in May. In many parts of the country, there is no hope of harvesting any corn from the first planting. Water supplies are running very low for many cities and towns. Anyway, we won't plant the trees until it rains, which will probably be in September. I am doing a SPA grant to pay for barbed wire to fence in the watersheds at Chaguite, Quebrada de Agua, and Pie de la Cuesta.
Juan Luis has about a thousand caoba seedlings to plant in one of his small watersheds. I asked Chico what the best way would be to plant the seedlings. The area is currently covered with carbón(a shrubby leguminous tree that grows up in dry areas after being cleared). He recommended clearing one-meter wide lines through the carbón at ten-meter intervals on the contours of the terrain. The seedlings will be planted every five meters in the cleared lines. As the trees grow, the carbón will eventually die out because it does not tolerate shade in the least. We hope to start planting in the next two weeks or so.
The cooperative has been doing more or less okay lately. They had another inactive time for almost three weeks due to problems with the truck they hire for transporting logs and lumber. They are back in production right now. There have also been a couple problems with insect infestations. Right now they are doing their third emergency cut of stands infested with gorgojo(Dendroctonus beetles). The gorgojo has been quite a problem in Honduras this year. Alot of the cooperatives have had to deal with infestations. They have already treated three infestations, and there are at least four more infested areas that they will have to treat in the near future. The treatment they give to the affected areas is a clear-cut of all the infested trees, plus a six meter wide band around the visibly affected trees to make sure none have been missed. Then the area is burned to kill any free roaming beetles. Trees cut from these areas are taken to the sawmill to be processed. I don't know if that might make the problem worse because you are moving the infested logs to a different place. It seems to me that the beetles might spread that way. I guess I don't really know. The beetles have infested areas outside the coop's management plan as well. In fact, there are infestations in almost all of the municipalities in El Paraiso. Last week, COHDEFOR and AFOCO coordinated a meeting about the gorgojo problem that was attended by concerned parties (coops, municipalities, projects, and private landowners) from four different municipalities. The idea was to work out a tentative strategy for dealing with the problem and to set up times to do training workshops for the people that will be involved in finding and treating the infested areas. COHDEFOR is showing good initiative for dealing with the problem I think. They are putting lots of effort into coordinating efforts to treat the forest between all the different interests involved. I will be participating in the workshop next week for the municipality of Yuscaràn.
On May 26, the coop had its annual assembly in Laìnez. About sixty percent of the members showed up. Lots of people did not come because everyone is now planting corn and beans(the rains started recently). There was no election for the Junta Directiva this year because they only hold those elections every two years. They did elect a new Junta Vigilancia. This brought up a serious problem with the function of the coop. When the time came for last year's Junta Vigilancia to give their presentation to the assembly, only one of the three members were present, and she had nothing to present. The group did not meet once the entire year. This is a pretty serious problem because the Junta Vigilancia is supposed to monitor the activities of the Junta Directiva and the rest of the cooperative. This problem is not unique to just this coop. These groups are often overlooked by the coops and the people elected to them. I have talked with AFOCO about maybe doing a short training session for the new junta. Often they have no real idea as to what they are supposed to do or how to do it. We will see what can be arranged.
Another bit of discontent that arose in the assembly is the conflict between the resineros and the group cutting timber. Some of the resineros are angry because the coop is cutting trees. They get especially testy when they are cutting in someone's resin parcel. In lots of cases, the timber cutting is a direct threat to the activities of the resineros. I see it as just a lack of understanding. AFOCO didn't give any kind of training or seminars to the resineros before starting with the implementation of the management plan. Many of them don't even realize that the days are numbered that they will be able to continue tapping resin at the rate they are. Many parcels have been tapped for 20 or 25 years, and there are hardly any trees left to tap. Now some of them tap smaller and smaller trees because there are no larger ones left. This of course does a lot of damage to the smaller trees. Harvesting these areas and the exhausted trees is very necessary so that there will be trees to tap in the future. It doesn't seem that they(AFOCO) put any effort into how the two groups would coexist. I have talked with a couple of the AFOCO people about it. There is a possibility of doing a couple workshops for the resineros about the concept of cooperation and management between the two groups. Also, the Junta Directiva wants to start doing a quarterly bulletin on the activities of the Junta Directiva and the coop in general. This should start to address the problem of the coop members always being uninformed about what is happening with the coop. I am now close to finishing the first bulletin that covers the last three months or so.
One thing that has disappointed me lately is that the resination inventory has not been continued again yet. Chico keeps telling me that they want to start again, but it hasn't happened yet. I think there are still some money problems at AFOCO. One thing I am interested in doing myself is a small research project about the conflict between the resineros and timber cutters. The idea came to me while I was walking out to Chaguite to check out the viveros. I do lots of thinking while I walk. I would like to interview members of the cooperative to try and gauge what the perceptions are of the management plan, sawmill, etc. Right now, it is only an idea, but I have mentioned it to Jorge. I think it would be really interesting to see what the members really think about the direction the coop is heading in. I have a feeling that they will be pretty evenly divided between the resineros and those involved directly or indirectly with the timber operation. I think it could be very useful to the coop and to other coops who operate or want to operate in both fields. I really hope that they eventually complete the resin inventory. That way, they will have some hard data about resin tapping's effect on the forest. I think it is also beneficial to have some sociological data concerning the members and what they think or perceive. So now I just have to talk to a lot more people and see if there really is interest in a study like this. I would think AFOCO would be pretty interested. This could be a good learning tool for them to see what people think about the changes that have happened to the coop since the project arrived.
I have quite a bit to report on my thesis project and the possiblity of my extending. I suppose I will just say off the bat that I am planning on extending a year. I have begun to do all the paperwork that is required for the extension. A lot of things have come together in the last month or so to help me make up my mind. I have talked a lot with my APCD, and I have also talked with Steve the country director. I would be working with FEHCAFOR in Tegucigalpa. I have mentioned FEHCAFOR in previous reports. FEHCAFOR stands for Federación Hondureña de Cooperativas Agroforestales. A while ago I was talking with Andrés(the owner of my house who was the secretary of the organization) about the status of the Federation. It is one of those stories of woe that is so common here. Basically, the Federation could barely function or offer services to its member cooperatives because they have no money. This is because hardly any of the coops fulfill their financial obligations to the Federation. Most of the coops can't pay because they have big financial problems of their own or are not working due to a plethora of difficulties. He mentioned to me that they would be having their national assembly soon and that I was welcome to attend. So of course I jumped at the opportunity.
The assembly was held at the training center of IFC north of Tegucigalpa. IFC is the Instituto de Investigación y Formación Cooperativista. IFC works with all the coops in Honduras, not just the forestry coops. The assembly was very interesting to say the least. There was an air of discontent on the part of both the Junta Directiva and the member coops. It was made clear from the beginning that the Federation was in pretty dire straits. The message of the member coops was: We are upset because FEHCAFOR has done little or nothing to directly help the coops who are dire need of assistance(negociating with COHDEFOR and municipalities, tenure conflicts, management and organization, marketing, etc). The message of the Junta Directiva was: The Federation is almost non-functioning because of the complete lack of resources(money, transport, paid personnel, etc...). Much of the blame for lack of funds lies with the member coops who have not fulfilled their monetary obligations to the Federation. Most of the funds that were available went towards participating in writing the new forestry law(one of the main functions of the Federation is to represent the position and interests of the coops in the field of government and lawmaking). The Federation was so low on money that the assembly was paid for by the FAO project ADECAF. The good thing was that both sides admitted there were big problems, and the finger-pointing was pretty minimal. The assembly was broken into two sessions: the afternoon of Friday consisted of a presentation by the director of IFC and work group sessions to come up with soluntions and a strategy for confronting the problems of the Federation. The second session was Saturday and consisted of the actual assembly.
The work groups on Friday were very productive I thought. Everyone broke up into groups so that each group could come up with a list of recommendations to be considered at the assembly the next day. The suggestions were broken up into two distinct groups. The first were things that the Junta Directiva needs to improve or address. The second was a list of the things the coops themselves need to address. So these suggestions(I think there were 8 or 10 in total) were to be incorporated as resoluntions in the assembly the next day.
All of the resolutions given by the work groups were passed the next day. There was a lot of discussion as to the actual implementation of the resolutions. It all basically comes down to the Junta Directiva, which would be elected at the end of the assembly. I knew that Andrès was likely to be elected President before the assembly, and I had thought about the possibility of working with FEHCAFOR as well. The way it turned out, Andrès was elected President, and the Secretary and Vice-President were also people I knew. The new Secretary is Roberto Castillo, who is also the President of EMCAH. I have lots of confidence in Roberto from the times I have talked with him. He works very hard with EMCAH, and is involved in a well-functioning coop. The new Vice-President is Luis Goloy, the former President of Cooperativa Villa Santa. I have met him a few times when visiting his coop and at a couple EMCAH meetings. He has been a member of the FEHCAFOR Junta Directiva before, so he has experience. As far as Andrès is concerned, I have full confidence in his abilities and dedication. I have spent hours and hours discussing coops and campesinos and what-not with him. He has good ideas and is willing to make a plan and work towards goals.
As I sat through the assembly, I did a lot of thinking about possibilities for work with the Federation. One of the resolutions passed by the assembly was that the Federation needs to go visit the Cooperatives in order to know the individual situations and problems of each coop. How can you help a group if you don't know their situation? Obviously, the coops with the most problems would be priorities for visits. The information that the Federation has on each coop is very minimal. The info is mostly demographic. There is almost nothing useful like work experi! ences in different fields(successful and unsuccessful) or contacts with people(COHDEFOR personnel, municipalities, clients, etc..). It seems to me that it would be extremely useful to have a history or record of the experiences of each coop. The Federation could then use that info for the benefit of all the member coops. A good example would be in the area of forest fire prevention. They could keep a specific file for this field that would include the best and worst experiences gathered from the coops themselves. This way, if a coop wants to start in fire protection, FEHCAFOR has some very useful information and advice to give them. This concept could be applied to all activities that the coops do. As it is now, most cooperatives have to find their own way in any new undertaking, making many mistakes along the way. Some of these mistakes can be disastrous.
As I have mentioned, one of the biggest problems of the Federation is the lack of funds. Basically, I could do a lot of work for them at little or no cost. They have never been able to afford to hire a tecnico or someone to do field trips and evaluations. This is the kind of thing I am interested in helping with. As a fringe benefit, I would be able to collect a great deal of data for my thesis project.
So these were the ideas I had banging around in my head during and after the assembly. The next step in my progression was the meeting that we organized between Peace Corps and some organizations that work with coops. I mentioned the idea to Jorge at the All Volunteer Conference back in November. I mentioned the idea in my last report as well. I originally wanted to bring together all the PCV's who are working or would like to work with forestry coops with counterparts from their sites and some people from projects and organizations that work with the coops. In talking with Jorge, we decided to not include volunteer counterparts in this meeting because of the difficulty in obtaining funding for workshops with volunteers and counterparts. We did a proposal for seven volunteers and representatives from ADECAF/FAO, EMCAH, FEHCAFOR, AFOCO, and the social forestry department of COHDEFOR. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the issues and problems facing the cooperatives and the specific role that PCV's can play in helping them. Some of the volunteers present had already worked with coops, but most had not done much. Peace Corps Honduras has also decided to include working with the agroforestry cooperatives in the project plan for the natural resources sector, so Jorge wanted to use the meeting as a way to figure out some specifics for the volunteers. We also wanted to look at potential sites for the new training group which arrives at the end of July.
The meeting was on May 29, and went really well over all. Andrès and Roberto attended as the representatives of FEHCAFOR and EMCAH, respectively. One of my counterparts, Rolando, came as part of Proyecto AFOCO. The meeting lasted all of one day until about three in the afternoon. The morning was spent talking about the Peace Corps Project Plan for natural resources and the new forestry law which should be passed by the end of this year. All of the host country people at the meeting had been involved in the drafting of the new law. Rolando did a short presenta! tion on some of the more important points of the new law. In the afternoon, we talked about some of the experiences of the volunteers present with the groups at their sites. Then we got into discussing ideas and specifics for working with the coops. We developed a list of suggestions for the coops and the volunteers to make the interchange more beneficial for both sides. We also came up with a list of potential coops for the four forestry volunteers that will be arriving in the new NR training group.
Before the meeting, I had not yet mentioned to Rolando or Andrès that I was thinking about extending or working with FEHCAFOR. At one point we were talking about the possibility of me being replaced in my site after I leave. I have thought for quite a while that it might not be necessary to put another forestry volunteer in my site because of the fact that the coop is pretty proficient in the forestry aspect of their activities. The problems of the Guadalupe are more organizational(I will elaborate a little later). Anyway, Rolando said basically the same thing, then a little later he said that it would be a good idea to put a volunteer with FEHCAFOR. Gee, funny you should mention that. I had been kind of biding my time until I was more sure of my position, but I figured if he brought it up, I might as well throw down my cards. So I said that yes, I had been considering just that for a while. The idea was well received I thought. A couple people had meetings at three, so we ended the meeting there. The volunteers said that the meeting was helpful and that they learned quite a bit. That was the point, so I was glad.
The next day, Jorge and Menelio wanted to talk over a few things with me. Because working with the coops has become part of the project plan, it is necessary now to include forestry and coops in the Pre-Service Training for the forestry volunteers. This was one of the big points that I brought up in the meeting. I arrived at my site with almost no knowledge about coops or forestry in Honduras whatsoever. As a consequence, I have spent a great deal of time digging for information and trying to find out how things work. So we spent a few hours going over the things that they should be taught and a tentative agenda for the training. Jorge also told me that they were thinking of having the field-based training for the natural resources group in Yuscaràn again. If I extend, another of my functions will be to help with the training of the forestry volunteers and to act as a program assistant or contact for the volunteers in the field working with coops.
A few days later, I was able to talk to Andrès a while about my proposition. He said that he was definitely interested in having me work with the Federation. We talked a little about the work that he had been doing with the Federation since becoming President. The truth is, he is in Tegucigalpa working much more often than he is in Laìnez. One of the big things they have happening soon is a multi-day workshop in which FEHCAFOR is going to develop a five-year plan. They have also been talking to a lot of aid organizations about getting funding for the Federation. He mentioned the Swedish, Canadian, and one other project. We set up a meeting between FEHCAFOR, myself, and Jorge on the 29th of June to talk in more detail about me working with the Federation. Another purpose for the meeting was to narrow down the possible site assignments for the new forestry volunteers. Jorge needs to start very soon with site evaluations.
A couple days later, I sat down and talked for a while with Rolando. We talked for a long time about whether or not they should put another volunteer in my site, be it from my sector or another. We came to the conclusion that it really wasn´t feasible, and so that is the recommendation I am giving to Jorge on that subject. Then we talked some about my thesis project. I have been struggling over the details for a long time now, and the possibility of extending only complicates things. The part that I am really not clear on is how many cooperatives I want to in! clude in the study. Also, how should I choose exactly which coops to include once I know approximately how many? I think anything over a dozen would just be too much. Should I include only coops that work in pine forest, or should I include broadleaf coops as well? Rolando thinks that I should include as many different types of coops as possible so as to represent a profile of the social forestry system as complete as possible. It looks like I will try to include 10-12 coops, including both pine and broadleaf coops. Because there are more groups working in pine forest, I will include more of that type. They are also more accessible for me.
I had another visit tentatively planned to the cooperative
in San Antonio de Flores a short while ago. I have mentioned this
coop before as an example of a cooperative gone bad. So I'm positive
I will want to include it in the study. I had arranged with the
volunteer in that town to visit for a couple days so he could
introduce me to some of the members and the leaders. Unfortunately,
there has recently been some big problems with a gang living in
the mountains that is robbing and murdering people in that area.
Peace Corps has decided to pull all the volunteers out of that
area for safety reasons. They are removing seven volunteers out
of four communities. Four of the seven were about to COS in a
month or so. Now they have to COS a little early, and they will
not be replaced. The other three are going to get site changes.
So I may not be able to visit this coop for a while.
I spent the week of July 9th in Gualaco trying to learn as much as possible about the communities and cooperatives. I visited a total of seven communities and eight cooperatives. The places I checked out were basically divided into two categories: communities in and close to Gualaco, and a group of communities that lie an hour or more North of Gualaco. In the area around Gualaco there are over 50,000 hectares of national forest. Very few of the communities have ever been able to consistently utilize the forest they live in. Most timber cutting in t! he zone is done by big commercial loggers. Once they win a contract, there is almost no monitoring of their activities by COHDEFOR. So there can be some pretty gross violations of volume quotas and cutting beyond where they should. The communities are not fond of this way of doing business. Absolutely nothing is left to benefit the communities after the loggers leave. The communities I visited were La Ensenada, San Antonio, Las Cruzes, Jicalapa, Laguna Grande, and Los Jutes.They are pretty isolated, but they are very comparable to Laínez and the other communities close to where I live. Anyway, there are some groups that are fairly well-organized, but have not been a! ble to do much work because they have no technical know-how, nor do they know exactly which doors to knock on and which people to talk to in order to get things done. I think that a volunteer could find plenty to do in the area. The first five communties have(or had) some form of cooperative. Los Jutes is very small, and is located near San Antonio. There is more than 50,000 hectares of National Forest surrounding the Gualaco area, and most of the communities I mentioned are found right in the middle of it. It appears to me that this area is prime for the development of forestry cooperatives and community forestry.
I am sending the report that I did on this trip so you have a good picture of the situation there. In the time I spent there, I became reasonably familiar with a very different situation than that found in the area around my site (as far as cooperatives are concerned). All of these groups are very new compared to most of the cooperatives I have visited so far. They are also very unexperienced, and have not received much in the way of technical assistence. The forest resource in this zone is much more high quality than most of the cooperatives in El Paraiso. Any work with these groups would have to begin! with some very simple basic things. I talked with Konrad a lot about the fact that the groups need some years to develop slowly because of their total inexperience. It is interesting to note that from the beginnings of the Social Forestry System almost all effort towards training and development of coops was concentrated in the departments of El Paraiso, Francisco Morazán, and Comayagua (the three central departments). Community forestry barely exists in the western region, and the southern region is largely deforested. There are cooperatives, but they are more based on plantations of broadleaf trees. Olancho was almost completely ignored when help was being apportioned to community forestry projects. This is! a terrible shame because of the huge potential in this department. There are a large number of rural, largely undeveloped communities in the midst of a prime forest resource. Many Olanchanos view the timbermen and COHDEFOR as corrupt exploiters and the enemies of the people. Consequently, there is no support or cooperation from the communities concerning forestry. Rather, they see agriculture or cattle as the only way to utilize the land themselves. In my report, I recommended the community of San Antonio for placing a forestry PCV. It is a nice small community with lots of work potential close by.
There is a very interesting group working in the Gualaco area that I was able to get to know while visiting. It is called the Foro Local Forestal (Local Forest Forum), and was an idea of the PROFOR project. The group consists of lots of different community members that are involved or concerned with the management and conservation of the forests and natural resources of the region. It includes COHDEFOR workers, teachers, the local Catholic priest, sawmill or palillera owners, landowners, cattlemen, and representatives from cooperatives and many of the rural communities. They are trying to get all of the rural communities to participate so that the! forum is represented by as many interests as possible. The mission of the forum is to promote discussion of the issues and problems concerning natural resources management. By including as many players as possible, it is hoped that everyone can have a say, and that solutions will be acceptable to everyone (as much as that is possible). The group has taken part in community meetings, policy discussions, and conflict resolutions over natural resources. I have to say that I was really impressed with this idea. It is a concept that could easily be replicated in other communities and municipalities of Honduras. I am going to talk with the new trainees about organizing this type of group in whatever site they are assigned to.
12 October 2001 [Mike is going to stay in Honduras but change locations within the country.]
I just arranged my apartment here in Tegucigalpa for next year. It doesn't even seem like Peace Corps. I will have electricity, hot water, big nice bed, refrigerator, microwave, and a maid. All of these things are very fascinating and cutting-edge for me at this point. Teguz is yucky, but one can't have everything.
My primary activities for these months have been wrapping up
all my projects at my site and preparing for my transition to
Tegucigalpa working for FEHCAFOR. It was pretty hectic finishing
existing work and doing a couple small/scale projects before leaving.
I also did quite a bit with the Natural Resources training group
that spent four weeks of field/based training in Yuscarán.
When I wasn't busy doing any of these things, I was helping the
cooperative delineate and treat Dendroctonus beetle infestations.
We were able to plant most of the trees we raised in Chaguite Oriente by the middle of September. The final planting of the seedlings was complicated by the fact that rainfall was very inconsistent in the months of August and September. It is usually raining almost every day during that time, making it ideal for planting. This year it was pretty dry during the entire rainy season. In some parts of Honduras, the first plantings of corn and beans were a total loss. In my region, most farmers were able to salvage something, but losses were very heavy. One of the technicians from Zamorano came to see the nurseries in August. After seeing the area, he noticed that there was not a lot of fodder for the livestock during the dry season. He offered to bring seed from a drought-resistant strain of zacate grass to plant for summer fodder. Only one farmer prepared land to plant, so we only did this with one family. Hopefully the grass will survive even with the lack of moisture.
One other thing I began before leaving my site was to help Chaguite Oriente get a small water system designed. One of the biggest problems for Chaguite is that they have very little water. There are five small water systems in Chaguite and five barrios or subdivisions of the community. Three of the five systems are very small and belong to individual families in the smallest barrio, Quebrada de Agua. The barrios Chaguite and Pie de la Cuesta each have slightly larger systems, but they don't have the capacity to serve all the families in the community. The barrios Frijolar and La Rinconada get water on a very limited basis from the systems of the other barrios. So you see the problem the community has with water.
Chaguite was recently told by FHIS(Honduran Social Investment Fund) that they have money to do a small water project to augment the existing ones. There exists another source of water on a hacienda about a mile from the community. The owner is willing to let the community use the water. They want to build a system to serve the other two barrios, and they needed the topographic study and design before they do the project. They asked me if Peace Corps did this kind of work. Why yes, we have an entire sector dedicated to just this type of thing. So I contacted a couple water/sanitation volunteers in the area to help me out. Alina gave me lots of help, but she couldn't do the actual study because she was about to COS. So she hooked me up with her successor, Jason. He came and stayed at my house in Laínez a couple days, and we went to Chaguite to do the initial work. I was pretty ignorant about what was required to do a water study, and I quickly learned that we wouldn't be doing the actual study for a while.
First, Jason was supposed to bring the aforo(the quantitative measurement of the water source) that was done last April. Supposedly, his counterpart was the one who did the aforo, but of course he couldn't find it. Various other things were lacking as well. Jason wanted to see the source and talk to the owner. Luckily the owner was there and we were able to talk to him. Jason wanted to make sure there was a legal contract giving permission to use the water. He also needed a lot of background info on the community. So we got some people together on day from the community and made a small map of the area including all houses, buildings, water sources, etc
When I left to come home, everything was in progress I think. Jason had most of the community info he needed and a copy of the permission to use the water. He was going to check with someone to see if it was legally valid. He also was going to locate the aforo and talk with the FHIS people about their requirements for the projects. I'm hoping the study will be done when I get back. We'll see how things go. This is Jason's first real project as he swore in on October 18th. It should be a good learning experience for him.
Early April 2002
This is my first report from my new assignment in Tegucigalpa. I can say with all confidence that I prefer living in the campo to the dirty noisy capital city. I have visited my old site once, but I didn't get to stay very long. I miss walking all the time in the forest. I walk some here, but it is all flat. Plus you have the added unpleasantness of cars and buses honking and spewing exhaust in your face, garbage everywhere, and a really unreasonable amount of people. The reduced physical activity and the much greater availability of food have contributed to me gaining back some of the weight I had lost. The transportation system in this town is a nightmare. Just getting around can cause one to gradually lose sanity. In November and December, they replaced all the water pipes in the city with money donated from Japan. Of course they had to tear up half the streets and sidewalks in the city. One would think that you fix things after you tear them up. NO! At least they're taking their sweet ass time. At least half of the sidewalks I walk to get to my bus are destroyed. It is like walking on the rocky trails of Laínez, except there are no pine trees or fresh air. At least I have the option of wearing hiking boots. I feel sorry for the women walking to work in their high-heel shoes. Bus drivers are another story. I can describe them in one word: unstable. It is a miracle that I have not witnessed a person or animal being crushed beneath the wheels of a bus speeding through the market area. The toughest job you'll ever love. Give me campesinos any day over urban bus drivers.
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