Saturday, December 31, 2011


On Wednesday I watched 4 more cataract surgeries (three of which were for Unite For Sight), so I thought I might try to explain what happens. Prior to my UFS training this semester, I didn't know that much about cataracts, other than Claude Monet had them and sometimes I saw old cats with them.
Cataracts can occur congenitally as well as, more often, in adults. What happens is that the lens, which is supposed to be clear, becomes clouded. Initially, cataracts are kind of yellowish, so it's kind of like permanently seeing through sunglasses. But as a cataract progresses, it gets both darker and thicker, and eventually blocks all vision. However, there are a few available surgeries for cataracts, and it is one of the more simple solutions for blindness.

Since eyes freak some people out, I'm using only illustrations I found on google images. If you really want to google pictures of cataracts and cataract surgery, go ahead.

The surgery that most doctors in developing countries use is slightly different than the one used in the US, but it is just as effective but tends to work better with the kinds of materials that are available and more affordable.

So in the lamest of layman's terms, here is what happens:

First, a local anesthetic is administered under the eye. Dr. Flores said that if the anesthesiologist is there sometimes they do full anesthesia, but normally the patient is completely awake for the procedure and gets up and walks away a couple minutes after it's done.

Then an initial cut is made in the outer layer of the eye, and another two cuts are made on the outside of the iris, making sort of a trapezoid.
This gel-fluid stuff is pumped into the eye to keep the pressure stable, as well as put on top of the cornea to protect it while all the tiny knives are in use. Using the 2nd and 3rd cuts as entry points, a tool is inserted into the eye, and it begins to loosen the cataract. Eventually a scoop tool just scoops it out, which one time made me faint but mostly it's really cool to see and kind of satisfying to watch. There it goes!

A new lens is inserted, which has two springy tendrils that help keep it in place. After being centered, the surgery is basically done.

For most surgeries, stitches are not needed. This cuts down on the amount of times follow-up appointments are needed, which is especially good for patients who come from far away, and allows surgeons to see more people.

Dr. Flores added a second microscope for his last two surgeries so I could see the same things he was seeing which was so cool. In related news, I am becoming somewhat concerned about how interesting I think watching eye surgery through a microscope is.

Another ophthamologist, Dr. Mathos, was doing a surgery for glaucoma immediately after, so she let me watch that as well. Glaucoma is particularly difficult, because it's an issue of pressure. Without proper drainage, the eye builds pressure which presses on the optic nerve and damages vision gradually. This is irreversible, but caught early, eye drops and/or surgeries can be used to regulate pressure and prevent vision loss. Dr. Mathos worked with a patient who had already gotten surgery to drain the aqueous humor to treat his glaucoma, however, because he was young (he looked like he was in his 30s), the cuts had healed and the aqueous humor wasn't draining anymore so he needed it again.

Anyway... the OR is really cool!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Almuerzo de Navidad

Wyatt left around 11, so after clinic work was done I hung out with Mario, Rolando, and Kenia and a couple other staff members who were dropping in and out as they finished their work. Sometimes they talk really fast and it is hard to understand. I laugh a lot at things that I am not exactly sure about. Ah, language barriers. I talked with Doctora Mathos for awhile, and then it was time for el almuerzo.

Every year, the clinic staff at ZOE has a Christmas lunch. It happened today, so after working in the morning, most of the employees gathered on the third floor for turkey, stuffing, rice, salad, and torreja. Food! It was great, as the food often is here.

Celeste made a speech before the lunch, which was actually pretty helpful because it helped me figure out how things at the clinic work.

Here is what I know:

-Clínica ZOE is run by a church, which helps with funding and outreach. Additional funding is supplied by Unite For Sight.

-The clinic has been gradually expanding. The first floor is optometry and ophthalmology, and the second floor has a lab, more optometry offices, regular doctors, and pediatricians. There is also a psychologist and social worker.

-Something something... security being provided for free for the month of January?

-The clinic operates with a public attitude, although it has private clients. For those who are too poor to pay or too poor to pay full price, they are able to get the care they need. However, there are many clients who are middle class and pay for the services they get.

-In the next year, they will be looking for a newer, larger location in hopes to expand the clinic and its functions to be more like a hospital. They're running out of space.

-Many of the doctors work part time. Dr. Mathos, for instance, has her own private clinic in the afternoon. Other doctors work short shifts and volunteer their time so that they can help people get the medical care they need.

-Celeste is in charge of all the employees--there are like 40-- which consist of doctors, technicians, office workers, outreach, security, and then volunteers.

A couple other employees made speeches about how grateful they were for the other clinic staff as well as the work they are able to do. It was a really nice lunch and it was pretty clear that everyone is really close and supportive of one another. I'm glad that I'm starting to get know a few of them!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Brigada to Choluteca

As you can maybe see in the above picture that I tried to annotate with Apple Preview, Monday afternoon we left for our first brigada. So Wyatt and I went with Victor, who is an optometrist and the outreach director at the clinic, three hours south to Choluteca, which is both a city in a region, but we actually went to the city. (... Surprise, parents! Kind of close to Nicaragua.) Victor said that for the past couple months there haven't been any volunteers so brigadas have been hard on his own, because he often gets between 80-100 people who come to them in one day. Which is great, but solo I am sure that is quite stressful. He says that usually there are 4-5 volunteers who come on brigadas, so with just the two of us we were not sure what would happen. Nevertheless, we were both really excited. This is what we came for!

Anyway... the drive was beautiful, the area between Tegus and Choluteca is really mountainous and green so it was beautiful.

Side note about roads: not the best. Every once in awhile we would get to a patch of highway that was covered in dirt and rock because part of the mountain had collapsed on it during a period of monumental rain in October. As you may be able to see in the above picture, part of the road had collapsed during the rain three months ago.

So we got to Choluteca around 4, which was a really cool city. With about 150,000 people it is much smaller than Tegus (1.5 mil), but the feel was completely different. We got set up at a hotel Victor stays at every time he goes on brigada to Choluteca, and it was really nice. Choluteca is a lot hotter than Tegus since it's farther south, and reminded me a lot of beach towns I went to in Ecuador... minus the beach part. We were still pretty inland.
My hotel room. Even with AC, it was a sweatastic night.

That night, Victor drove us to a restaurant that he said was really good. Which was very true. It was like meat paradise. I've put vegetarianism on hold while I am here and very glad that I have done so.

In Choluteca, Victor has a friend named Ramona who got cataracts surgery two years ago as a result of one of the brigadas. Ramona is all about volunteering and helping other people get surgeries they need, so she helps round up people and organize them for Victor. She's also a trusted local, and carries clout with the community. She made us tamales for breakfast.

Outside Ramona's house

We went to a nearby Catholic church that was hosting the space for the brigada. This was also beautiful.

Some of the 600 pairs of glasses I lugged 2,000 miles. When we figured out people's prescriptions, they were directed to the correct bag of reading glasses and we helped them pick out a pair. For people who could pay or needed glasses in a prescription number higher than what we had, there were frames they could chose from to get a special pair made up.

Ramona, explaining the cataracts surgery process. This is the primary function of brigadas. Patients with cataracts are identified, and then it is arranged for them to come to Tegus (Javier picks them up) and stay 2 nights for the surgery and follow up.

We taped eye charts to the wall, and tested vision. This is not always easy to explain. Partly because asking "Which direction do the legs go?" seems kind of weird. And there is no one way to answer this question. Some people point, others say "E," "M," W," or "3," while others just say up/down etc. And then there are the people who don't quite understand what is happening, and clearly understand that the backwards E they are seeing is a backwards E, but just say "E." Sometimes this test can get a little unnecessarily complicated, but in general people are happy to do it because their world is blurry and they want glasses.

Victor, setting up his part of the church.

Victor, explaining how he was going to use a light to check for cataracts. The red reflection that you see in pictures (every single picture of me) means that your eyes are healthy. However, when a person has cataracts, the lens is cloudy and the red reflection is obscured. Seven people with cataracts were identified, and Ramona got their contact info to help set up their trip to Tegus.

While Victor handled the technical part, Wyatt and I did VA exams and helped people get their glasses, which was actually really fun. Most people were pretty excited to be getting glasses, and it was interesting to be part of the choosing process. Restoring Vision donated the glasses, and some of the patterns are kind of goofy. One pair has dog bones printed all over them. However, most women preferred the brighter color frames, in stripes and polka dots. Men were kind of a challenge because there just aren't as many frames for men, but this was a fun challenge that my year of working at the GAP Outlet in Freeport helped with. People like getting compliments and encouragement.

It was a long, hot day, but incredibly rewarding. We left for Tegus around 3:30 and as soon as I got back to my room at the hotel I put my socks to soak in the sink because they smelled like poison. Wyatt is leaving on Friday and five more volunteers are coming on Sunday, and Victor said we'll be going to the west (to Lempira) on brigada next week. Exciting!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Navidad Parte 2: Galletas hacen amigos

Celeste, the director of the clinic, had offered to do dinner with us, so Wyatt and I jumped at the chance. We've been doing a lot of Arrested Development appreciation, but occasionally we need to stop staring at my laptop and be with other people.

Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) is the bigger deal here, but Christmas Day is also important. Apparently, Nochebuena fiestas are kind of nuts. As soon as it turned midnight last night there were fireworks (which I couldn't see) and people started blasting "Feliz Navidad." This went on for at least an hour, but we've been told that people go to bars and discotecas and stay out really late. Around 9 when Marvin drove us home yesterday, there were tons of people out on the streets doing firecrackers. Where does this energy come from?? I've been going to bed around 10pm here. Then again, I also usually get up around 5:30 or 6am.

Anyway, Rosa made us coffee in the morning and we asked her if we should bring anything with us when we met up with Celeste's family. This is common in America. If you are spending time with someone during the holidays, you bring them food. Or wine or something. But both she and Lourdes said that it was unnecessary and we didn't need to because that's not customary. There is a saying in Maine that's like, you should never go to someone's house with one arm as long as the other. Meaning, one of those arms needs to be carrying some food or else you're not going to get invited back. I have found that this is a surefire way to win approval and make friends. In any case, we went to Supermercado la Colonia and got a box of cookies.

Celeste, her husband, and her three kids ages 10, 7 and 4 came by around 6pm and we went out to find a restaurant. So far we've liked comida típica but haven't had a lot of it, so they suggested baleadas, which is something that's very traditional in Honduras. And apparently really good because all the kids freaked out and got really excited. They also said we should get horchata which got me excited because I keep forgetting that there must be cross overs between El Salvadorian food (go to Tu Casa on Washington Ave in Portland, you won't regret it) and Honduran food. Celeste's husband said that a lot of Americans who try horchata don't like it, and one of his American friends said it tasted like dirt and I said that they must be crazy people. (Shout out to Imani--horchata is life!) Unfortunately, the place wasn't open and there weren't a lot of restaurants (except American chains) open, so we went to a Honduran chain restaurant instead.

This was also great, because there was a TV with Toy Story 2 on and the kids were hilarious. Actually the whole family is hilarious. Celeste and her husband are fans of Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. "I sleep with the enemy!" her husband said. The two boys like Madrid and the girl likes Barcelona, so there are some tense moments in that house during important soccer matches. Celeste explained that as Christians, the Jesus part of Christmas is more important than the Santa part, so all her kids know that Santa isn't real, although her daughter Sara writes him anyway. In the car later we passed a bus/caravan thing that had Santa up high on some sleigh-thing, and then families in a chiva behind. The kids all started yelling "Santa! Santa! Santa! Santa!" and when we passed them Celeste's husband yelled "Santa is a lie!" out the window and all the kids cracked up. Sara said that Santa had been waving but then changed to shaking his finger. Jaja!

As I alluded to earlier and in the title of this post, galletas make friends. I think the kids liked us before, but they were over the moon when we brought out the cookies. Galletas!! They dropped us off back at the hotel around 8, and it was really fun to spend time with a family, even if it isn't mine, for a little bit on Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Nerds

Merry Christmas, this shizz is hilarious

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Navidad Parte 1: Feliz Cumpleaños, Jesus

Merry Christmas Eve, y'all! Christmas Eve is a big deal in Honduras, so Wyatt and I decided to go to church. Neither of us is particularly personally religious, but religion is something that is important to something like 99.99% of Honduras, so we thought it was important to participate. Dr. Flores at the clinic suggested we go to his church, which also happens to be the same church that Lourdes' boss goes to. Lourdes talked to her boss, Rosa, and Rosa offered to give us a ride.

Rosa is hilarious and super nice. We chatted in the car and got coffee with her, which was good because little did we know, but we would need the energy for later. While talking, we realized that the church we were going to go to was Evangelical. Since most of Honduras is Catholic, we kind of assumed that we'd be going to some big Catholic church, but then again... there haven't really been many things so far that have gone as we've expected.

This turned out to be one of those large, modern Evangelical churches that I'd only heard about but never been to.

Wyatt and I sat down while Rosa went around and talked to people she knew (which was everyone). Shortly after, a man came over and introduced himself to us (Marvin), and then asked what we were doing after the service. We had planned to make pasta at the hotel and then watch Arrested Development, but Marvin said that we could come to his house and have dinner with him because we shouldn't be alone on Navidad. I was raised Episcopalian, so we don't really do that stuff... like talk to strangers... ever... but Rosa returned and told us that she's known Marvin all her life and he is un hombre bonito who takes care of his mother and does work with the church, and she talked to him and so Wyatt and I decided to go with it. Why not?

The majority of the service was Christmas carols translated into Spanish. Since I am more or less an expert on Christmas music, it was interesting to compare the lyrics. Spanish translations made most of the songs generally a lot more religious. Between songs were skits about the meaning of Christmas, and in the middle of the service all the pastors and their families went on stage, and each pastor made a short speech/sermon. The rock-and-roll-carol-Christmas-energy-bonanza was really interesting. One thing that Wyatt and I both thought was kind of odd was like... the concept of winter. The background of the stage was painted with snowflakes, and one of the carols they sang was "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas." It definitely doesn't snow here, it's like 70 degrees. Most of the people in the skits were wearing winter-marked clothing, like flannel and hats and coats and at one point a prop-fireplace was rolled out on stage. Also the fog machines. There was a lot of that.
Me: Look at all the steam.
Wyatt: It looks like they're all farting.
After the service was over, the pastor that Wyatt had spoken to on the phone at Dr. Flores' prompting talked to us, and since we had plans for that night and the next day, said that we should spend some time together sometime this week. I got his number, but I'm not quite sure why. Actually, he may be trying to convert us. In a friendly, friendly way, but I have seen Saved! I know how it goes.

So after the service we went off with Marvin, his mother, and some of his friends from the church, who I guess they all do volunteer work together. Marvin lives in the south of the city in a really nice house in a really nice neighborhood. At one point I got everyone's names... but I have since forgotten them. Although Unite For Sight is not affiliated with a religious institution, Wyatt and I talked about how it kind of makes sense to go to church and meet people there. Good way to practice Spanish... and also everyone is actually a Saint in training. When Marvin was saying grace he did take a second to talk about the real meaning of Christmas, and straight-up asked Wyatt and me where we were going when we died.

"... Uh... cielos?" I said. Wyatt quickly agreed. This satisfied Marvin and he went on explaining that it's important to accept Jesus as your personal savior and finished the grace. It is too complicated and controversial to explain agnosticism or non-religion, so while here, I'm identifying as Christian, Episcopalian/Anglican if asked. My personal philosophy on secular morals is probably too boring for a blog post and I am too distracted by the Christmas fireworks that I can hear but not see to get into that, but essentially, Marvin and our new Evangelical family and I have basically the same interests regarding charity and helping people, so where that motivation comes from I don't think necessarily matters.

So then we shared some awesome food, and got to have some really great and intense conversations about everything from public health to immigration to corruption in politics to racism. So much Spanish, dear lord. I'm exhausted. However, we totally rocked that conversation. They also asked what we had done so far in the city, which we admitted had been more or less a string of bizarre failures. Apparently that area we went to yesterday was really dangerous. "WHAT!? We don't even go there!" they said. "Clearly God was watching over you!" Ha ha ha... ? Awesome. Definitely sending Lonely Planet an e-mail.

This is on the balcony outside Marvin's house, looking back at the city.

Nuestro familia de Navidad

After dinner and chatting, we all piled into Marvin's truck again and he drove everyone home, giving us a tour of the best parts of the city along the way. I guess one of the things they all do together is volunteer with handicapped kids, so if we have free time Monday afternoon after working in the clinic or aren't on a brigada, we have an invitation to hang out with Marvin and the gang again and play with handicapped children (or just one? I'm not quite sure) so that might happen. Tonight was great. Absolutely unexpected in every way, but actually all good. I'm looking forward to chatting more with Rosa tomorrow morning and seeing what Christmas day is like.


Expect the Unexpected

By now, we've learned the names of most people that we work with. The clinic has three levels, the first is the eye clinic, and the second is a regular doctor/pediatric doctor, and the third floor has administrative offices and the archives.

The archives are crazy. Each patient gets assigned a 6-digit number, like 06-43-85, and there is a room full of folders. Just full of folders. It works though! And considering how the internet is here, it's probably more reliable than digitizing.

The nurses(?)/technicians(?) we work with are all kind of around our age and really funny. Everyone is really nice. Yesterday Celeste, the director of the clinic, got back from her trip in America so we met her and she offered to have us over for Christmas! So nice! She has three young children so that will be really fun I think. Wyatt and are going to go to a church tonight that Dr. Flores recommended, and actually he had Wyatt talk to the pastor on his cell phone. (Jaja.)

When I was in Philadelphia, I went with the ophthalmologist I shadowed to Health District #5 and helped him and some of his students do visual acuity exams. Here the process is a little different, and some of the patients are very, very different. For example, there are a several people I have tested here who have decent vision in one eye (20/20-20/40) and then the other eye is something like 20/140 or 20/400. Yesterday we had a patient who was deaf, and we just could not go the exam because he didn't understand.

For some other patients, they can't even see the chart. In that case, you go to the hand test. So you stand in front of the chart and ask if they can see your hand and keep moving forward until they do, and can count your fingers. Sometimes... you end up right in front of someone's face. In that case, instead of writing 20/x for their vision in an eye, you write CD (cuenta dedos) and then the distance. And then, even sometimes when you end up in front of someone, they still can't see your hand. Then you do the movement test, where you wave your hand back and forth and ask if they can see that. This gets noted as MM (movimiento de mano). Beyond that, there are some people who can only see light, so that gets noted as PL (percepción de luz.)

On Wednesday, Wyatt and I talked to an older patient for awhile who gave us free copies of his book, Virgin Maya de Copan. He had his son carrying around copies. He's a journalist and has dabbled in anthropology, so he wrote this book about Mayan culture, but it's like a novel about a romance between a virgin and a Mayan aristocrat. We've exchanged e-mails, and he is expecting comments from us.

la novela

He also signed them for us.
This says, "To the distinguished anthropologist from Philadelphia, Elizabeth Fride, with appreciation and thanks. [Something] Winston Calix"

Unrelated picture, but this was a find of the day, lichis, which are awesome. 25 for 20 Lempira! (Which is about $1.)

Wyatt and I have tried to use our free time in the afternoon to go to see Tegus. On Wednesday we tried to go to the art museum. This turned out to be one of the more bizarre taxi rides of my life.

Our driver, who was really nice, decided to kind of give us a tour of the city, which was nice, but he didn't actually know where the art museum was. We decided to go with it, and he dropped us off at another museum. It was closed.

We were at the city center, which the taxi driver said was safe and interesting, so we walked around for awhile, but decided to go back to our hotel around 3:30 to figure out something else and nap. We looked up restaurants online, and found something that sounded good and cool, and like a meat fiesta. Salchicha! Pinchos! Turns out... also closed.

We went to Pizza Hut instead.


Yesterday we tried to go to somewhere that the guide book recommended... but... I don't know, something went wrong or we weren't getting something or maybe this place disappeared too, but we ended up in a marketplace that was far away from the main part of Tegus, and it was getting dark, and after walking around for maybe 10 minutes we just decided to go to the restaurant we went to on Tuesday that we had a good experience with. Back to Café la Milonga! Cerveza to celebrate the fact that we are still alive!

Apparently the guide book and the internet are not reliable enough, and we need to start asking the clinic workers some very concrete questions about what exists in the city.

We also met Victor yesterday, who is the coordinator of the brigadas. He told us that we would probably go on on maybe Tuesday or Wednesday, but later in the day he texted me and said that we might go Monday and he would let us know. Exciting!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Theme of the Day: Pretend You Understand, and then Maybe You Might

As we were told, Wyatt and I walked across the street to the clinic to be there are 6:30 am. There were already about a dozen people waiting outside for the doors to open. After maybe 10 minutes, the guard asked us what we were doing there and told us we could wait inside since we were volunteers.

Eventually someone let the patients in (the clinic does all sorts of medical stuff, not just optometry) but we still didn't know what was going on. Someone inside the clinic eventually introduced himself to us, but also said that someone (language barrier) was in the US and isn't back yet... Wait... what? We waited some more and then asked someone else about it, just as Dr. Flores came in around 7:15. The clinic director is in the US for a talk and will be back on Friday. Ooooh okay. Dr. Flores gave us a quick tour of the bottom floor, which is the eye clinic part, and while he did exams left us with a couple other clinic workers to help with visual acuity exams.

As some patients may not be completely literate, we used the above chart, and asked people "Cuál dirección se indique las patitas?" (Which direction do the legs go?) and some people would say up/down/left/right, while others would just point. I did VA exams in Philadelphia during my training so there was a slightly different system, but it's more or less the same and pretty interesting.

Once Dr. Flores finished his exams, I had volunteered to observe surgeries. For Unite For Sight's accounting, a volunteer must be present for and sign a form after every surgery that is furnished by UFS donations. The price of a cataracts surgery in Honduras (for all the materials used, there are a lot, I saw 11 cataracts surgeries today) is $34.29USD, which means that from the money I raised because of all YOU generous people (thank you thank you thank you!), that's about 50 people who go from being blind to being able to see. Pretty cool! Today there were 12 patients who had been brought by Javier from their town 4 hours away to get surgery in Tegus, for free!

Dr. Flores is really nice and funny, and before we went into the OR he asked me if I was going to faint. I don't consider myself a really squeamish person, and although TV surgery definitely grosses me out, clinical settings are kind of a different bag. I said probably not, but he said about 25% of volunteers do. Haha, great odds.

It turns out, I did almost faint. I watched the first two surgeries (one for cataracts and one for pterygium) no problem. During the pterygium surgery I was even congratulating myself silently on being okay with watching it and being fascinated instead of terrified. Oh, yeah, where's that girl who couldn't handle Nip/Tuck a few years ago now? I have so progressed, I thought. Pterygium surgery is even kind of bloody as far as eye surgery goes. However, the third one was rough for me. It was in no way different than the first surgery I saw... although I was standing closer and saw more details... and I was dehydrated... and whatever, I started feeling faint and went to sit down. The surgical aids in the room asked me if I was okay but I just said, "Sí, sí, solo necesito un momentito!" and stuck my head between my knees.

This was also the surgery that Dr. Flores decided to start show and tell. So he kept calling me over to look at the cataract he pulled out and the eye without the new lens and the post-op eye... dear lord. However, I pulled it back together, and watched the next 9 cataracts surgeries no problem, in fact, seeing more of what was happening and starting to learn about the process. In one patient whose cataracts had built up for 9 years, Dr. Flores extracted the cataract, which was about the size of an m&m split vertically and dark brown too (early cataracts are yellowish, then go amber, then brown, then dark brown), and handed it to me on a gauze pad. "For your dad," he said. "It's like an m&m."
"I will never eat an m&m again," I said. (Re: the dad comment, I told Dr. Flores that when I told my dad about the graphic details of eye health he told me to stop talking because it freaked him out.)

Think about it.

Horrifying eye fact of the day: Did you know cataracts can get up to 5.5 millimeters?! That's huge! Something that big can be in your EYE. Go to an eye doctor!

So it was a really interesting morning! Around 1pm he finished all the patients from the brigada (the trip out of the city) and it was lunch time. Actually, that was all Wyatt and I had to do today. The pre-trip materials say that the clinic is "calmer" in the afternoon, but don't really say what that entails. But by 1pm everyone had cleared out and had gone home or were doing administrative stuff. And Wyatt and I were let loose.

Thing about Tegus that I am realizing: not a tourist destination. By the time we figured out where the art museum was, it was 30 minutes to closing. Tourist resources are not rich for this part of Honduras; most of them focus on the beaches to the north and south. A former volunteer left behind a Honduras tour book which has been pretty helpful as I said in my previous post, but obviously not good for things that are happening right now. While in Philadelphia it might be easy to google a list of interesting events happening in the city, this is close to impossible in Honduras. I have been to so many dead-end websites. For like three hours we tried to figure out what we could do with all this TIME (other than watch The Simpsons dubbed in Spanish) before finding a restaurant not that far away that sounded good and was not expensive. So we rushed out the door so we could walk there before it got dark.

We went to Café la Milonga, which is an Argentinian restaurant with good reviews. And uh... it was. It was a very cool atmosphere too, plus the food was awesome. I love a good soup and I think I just had one of the best of my entire life. Tomorrow is looking up as far as activities go. We have figured out some museums to go to during our free time in the next 8 days, and it is helpful now that we know typical hours, and tomorrow there is a free music festival at a park contra la violencia. Sounds cool and safe!

There was a lot of confusion today. Fortunately, most of it ended in comedy and not anything else. We're actually still kind of confused by what is expected of us, but everything is an emerging design so... we definitely know more tonight than we did this morning. And tomorrow will get more pieces to the puzzle of being a volunteer. Probably. Maybe...


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lost In Translation...? Nope, Just Lost

I was fortunate enough to have studied abroad in Ecuador, which greatly helped me take the leap from being a good student in American Spanish classes, to actually being able to function in a society that speaks Spanish. Hooray, semi-bilingualism.

However, there are lots of things about understanding people that does not have to do with language itself. And so I find myself, here in Honduras, functionally fluent, but kind of lost. Not lost as in physically lost, but I think I assumed that since I had lived in Ecuador this would be no problem, culture shock would be minimized. (It certainly helps though.) Honduras and Ecuador definitely have strong similarities, but they are also very, very different.

No, going to another country where the official language is not your first language is just hard. Fortunately, I am not alone. For my first 10 days here, there is another volunteer named Wyatt, and we had the same flight from Atlanta to Tegucigalpa. For the remainder of the trip there will be four new volunteers, and I envy them already because (hopefully) by then I might understand the system here and can give them the insider info.

Anyway... I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start with the flight.
Not bad. It's like 3 and a half hours from ATL to Tegus, and even though I spent most of last night awakem lying in anxiety, I decided to watch Monte Carlo on the plane. Actually, the two girls on either side of me (a high school junior and college freshman) did the same. Adorable. Early on, the girl to my right, who was Honduran and goes to college in the US, informed me that the landing strip at the Tegucigalpa airport is the second most dangerous airport in the world. Don't believe me? The History Channel's program Most Extreme Airports says so. (Yeah, that is a real thing.) The tarmac is like really, really short, so apparently it's very expensive to fly into Tegus because only the best pilots can do it. She crossed herself dramatically before we landed, and I was legitimately scared. It was a little rough, but fine. I'm sure I was just as scared when I flew Ryanair, but I have blocked the memory. Wyatt and I both reported heartening conversations with our Honduran seat mates about safety.

Once Wyatt and I got out of customs we made our way into the crowd of families, looking for the guy from the clinic who was sent to pick us up. Almost immediately a man grabbed Wyatt's suitcase, told us to follow him, and pulled it along. We were both kind of confused... and thought that this might be the guy who was supposed to pick us up... but soon it became very clear that he was just a hustler, who would answer every one of our questions with another one. "Oh, taxi? I can get you one. Okay, no, we can go here if you want to change your money! I will show you! You have someone coming for you? I call him." Miraculously, Javier, the actual guy we were looking for, was standing in front of us, and after Javier played around with this fool, he must have said something threatening to him because the hustler just went away and apologized to us. Welcome to Central America.

Javier told us a little and got us set up at our hotel (across the street from the clinic), and then he left. ... Okay. Wyatt and I were a little confused. Okay a lot confused. Basically the only thing we were told about our clinic work is that we need to be there tomorrow at 6:30am. The rest of today... well... who really knew? Lourdes, who works at the hotel, has been very helpful thus far about giving directions and helpful safety tips.
Side note, a conversation between Lourdes and me:
Lourdes: Me llamo Lourdes si usted me necesita.
Me: Lourdes?
Lourdes: Si, Lourdes.
Me: Como la hija de Madonna?
Lourdes: Sí, somos la misma.
Jaja! Lourdes is funny.

Anyway, Wyatt and I borrowed a Honduran tour guide book (which is hilarious, it offers helpful information about which museums are falling apart, which parks are filled with gang activities, etc. with a very simple "not worth visiting" at the end.) and we've been trying to figure out places to visit. Harder than one would assume! Google maps does not actually display a lot in Tegus, and even our understanding of our location in relation to the rest of Tegus is shaky at best. Taxis will know, but I like to have a visual. Thankfully, we're both good sports and have spent the past 12 hours that we have known each other laughing about how confused we are. Tomorrow we're working in the clinic, so perhaps we will get a more concrete run down of what's going on. I brought some of the prep materials with me, and in relation to all the questions I have NOW that I am here, they're kind of vague. Well, that's what working in a developing country is like! Lots of unexpected things, and lots of things you're kind of lost on.

Hasta luego!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I Love Home Births

Okay, I can't say that I love home births from experience, but I think they're really really cool. I didn't think this way until I saw The Business of Being Born, and then after that I have described the movie in detail and used charades to anyone who I can corner. It's really fascinating. CHECK THE CLIP!

So I am really excited for my friend Imani, who is pregnant and using a midwife for her gestating womb-buddy, and blogging about it at Someone's Gonna Call Me Mom. She, too, was enamored by The Business of Being Born and is convinced that the best way to bring her son into the world (omg it is so weird to talk about my friends having babies aahhhhh) is through as natural means as possible.

Lookit this girl. She's one of those annoying pregnant women who is still hot.

This is Imani when she was a baby.
If looking at this picture does not make you well up with tears,
then I am sorry to say, you are a CYBORG.
I am so excited for the adorable monster that
is going to come out of her in April. DEAR LORD.

So follow Someone's Gonna Call Me Mom to stay updated on Imani's journey to motherhood!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Awesome Awesome Awesome.

I often don't really get into the youtube-cover scene because, like the covers on Glee, I usually prefer the original artist. HOWEVER, this one by two high school girls of Neko Case's song "Star Witness" is excellent. I love Neko Case and they did her justice. Also, Neko Case loves it. Click HERE and HERE to read more about what Neko Case said and what these girls are doing with this song to save their school.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Remember that Old Phrase about the Dangers of "Assuming?"

Misguided white writer Gene Marks wrote a really ridiculous piece recently called "If I Was a Poor Black Kid." You may read it if you would like, but I am sure you can probably guess that it's real dumb.

Fortunately, out of this piece of crap journalism has come a lot of really good responses, including this article by Akiba Soloman called "If I was a White, Male, Middle Aged Forbes Columnist" and the following video from CNN ireport by user sonyarenee.

I think the lesson we should be getting from the responses to Marks' piece is that... it is okay to be mad that there is inequality in America. It is okay to talk about it. It is productive to talk about it and to talk about solutions. What is not okay is to presume you have the answers, especially if you are someone who is far removed from the demographic you are intent on "fixing."

Monday, December 12, 2011


Among the other cool things I got from my "Secret Santa," my genius/talented friend Keiran made me this FREAKING AMAZING "Feminist Ryan Gosling" needlepoint pillow. I just wanted to brag about how cool it is, and how I have the best friends!

"hey girl. when you speak I hear the revolutions"

EDIT: Keiran now has an ETSY account so hurry on over there and request some embroidered magic from her.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Glee Irreality and Reality Index: Episodes 307 and 308

Alright, I am suspending the Irreality and Reality index... because Glee has actually become too absurd to do this. At this point, the only realistic thing about the show is that the characters are played by humans. It is pointless. I need to stop watching the show because it is eroding my sanity and faith in humanity. It is just too bad.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Movie Review: Don't Need You

When I was 13-15ish, which was about 15 years after the Riot Grrrl scene happened, I listened to a lot of rock music. I liked Green Day, Weezer, Trapt, Nirvana, Anti-Flag, Disturbed, the Dropkick Murphys, Earshot, A Perfect Circle, Rise Against, Three Days Grace, Puddle of Mudd, Chevelle, Breaking Benjamin, Fugazi, the Dead Kennedys, Smashing Pumpkins, Our Lady Peace... etc. There were two CDs I listened to in heavy rotation in like 2004 which were volume 1 and 2 of "Rock Against Bush," which were compilations of political punk music. There were a couple female bands or female fronted bands on the CDs (No Doubt, Sleater-Kinney, the Exposies, and the Soviettes), but every other band was a bunch of dudes.

I did listen to female artists, but it was much more sporadically. I had one playlist on my ipod that was like called "girl power" or something, and it was a mix of female artists, from every genre and decade because overwhelmingly the music that I listened to was male. So clearly I recognized that women did not feature heavily in my favorite music, but there wasn't really much that I did about it. I think mostly I didn't realize that there are female rockers out ther. There were a few that I really liked, like No Doubt and the Cranberries and Pat Benatar, but other than them, what female representation there was in my adolescent iTunes was mostly throw-back stuff like Destiny's Child or Natalie Imbruglia. (Which I still love)

I didn't know about Riot Grrrl until I got into college. Literally, I don't think I had ever heard of it, or if I had, just didn't pay attention. My male friends in high school, I am sure, had no idea, so all the recommendations I got for punk music were all male bands. And it wasn't really til my junior or senior year in high school but especially in college that I started to actively seek out female artists and listen to them.

This afternoon my friends Beth, Keiran and I went to a screening of "Don't Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl" at the library on campus, and after we saw it we talked about how they too listened to a lot of dude-rock in middle/high school, and only more recently have been seeking out female artists.

A lot of the research I've done in college is on media representation, and how oppressed groups negotiate their place in society and make it better by creating their own media and culture, and that's exactly what Riot Grrrl music did. The scene in the early 90s for punk was really dude-heavy, and the documentary looks at its origins by talking to old members of Riot Grrrl bands about how the scene developed. It's a short movie, like 40 minutes, and I think is really good at looking at why the scene was so important and why it's had this legacy, as well as what went wrong and how Riot Grrrl kind of fizzled out.

Another thing that I liked about the documentary is its frankness. The women in the movie (all big names in the Riot Grrrl scene) talk about how they weren't taken seriously as punk fans and then as musicians themselves just for being female. This is largely why I stopped listening to modern rock. In the early 2000's it was all about being angry and doing drugs and hate, and then there was this like, shift around 2005 where all of a sudden songs were about doing these things because of bitch ex-girlfriends. And like, not that I could reeeaaally relate to modern rock before that, but it got really misogynistic! And the sound changed, and got even dumber than it used to be. And when there's a scene that you like and want to be a part of but recognize is problematic and not what you want out of it... it's really easy to just leave. But what makes a difference is when you re-imagine it and do something to make it what you want. Watch the documentary! I'm listening to Bratmobile now and want to listen to female rockers forever aiaiaiaiaiaiaiaiiiieee!

This is What a Feminist Looks Like

It's my birthday! I have been a feminist since I was born! I will be one til I die! Happy birthday to me!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Girl Power Music Part IV

It's been awhile since I've done one of these posts, but in the past couple months I've accumulated some fun new (new to me, not new to the world) lady-centric or just plain great music, and since I'm all about sharing (duh, socialist), I'm spreading the wealth of good tunes. Check 'em out!

No, No Keshagesh- Buffy Sainte Marie. (This track is from '09, but completely appropriate for the current political situation in America/the world.)
We Found Love- Rihanna
Soar- Christina Aguilera
You Only Live Twice- Nancy Sinatra
Only Prettier-Miranda Lambert

Copenhagen- Lucinda Williams
Andy- Indigo Girls
Home- Come Gather Round Us
Feeling Good- Nina Simone
Love On Top- Beyoncé
Undo It- Carrie Underwood
Everything I Said- The Cranberries
Breakin' Up- Rilo Kiley
Misty Mountain Hop- 4 Non Blondes

Feminist Kitchen: Toast Sandwich: For Those Who Are Too Poor for PB&J

During finals, I often find myself eating really strange foods, mostly because I can't bring myself to make something real, and I hate going to the grocery store. So in honor of this point in my semester, this issue of Feminist Kitchen is about the cheapest meal possible (according to the Royal Society of Chemistry): THE TOAST SANDWICH

So you may be thinking to yourself... "What? This is absurd." If you are thinking this, I am guessing you are a.) out of college, or b.) still in high school and still have parents making food for you. Well, let me tell you, during college, sometimes you are just too tired to make rice and beans. It's even conceivable that you might be able to get butter and salt and pepper packets from your dining hall or some kind of public restaurant thing, so all you have to pay for is the bread. Think about it.

Here you go:

-3 pieces of bread

Toast a piece of bread. Butter the two remaining slices, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Take out your toast and put it between the buttered bread. THERE YOU GO! SANDWICH! If you're the kind of person who gets excited about bread/carbohydrates, you'll probably like this.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Role Model: Shayla

This video has been making its way around the internet, and 15 year old Shayla's confessions and words of hope are inspiring and heartening. Shalya, you ROCK!