Sunday, June 7, 2009

Charlie bit me. And that REALLY hurt.

The morning of the swear-in ceremony I woke up with a slight pain in my right hand. When I looked down at my hand, sure enough, there was a small blister on the ring finger of my right hand. I immediately assumed that I had been bitten by something but was not that concerned about it as it has become normal to have a few bites on my body at all times. Since we were headed to the Peace Corps offices in Tegucigalpa for the swear-in ceremony, I took advantage of the situation and slipped into the doctor’s office to have a doc take a look at it. I told her, “Something bit me while I was sleeping last night.” To which she responded, “Do you know what bit you?” I said, “No I don’t. I was sleeping when it happened.” She did not seemed all that concerned about it, gave me some anti-allergic pills and a cream that was supposed to keep away infection, and sent me on my way to the swear-in ceremony. It was pretty appropriate that I got to raise my bug bite swollen hand to swear in to the Peace Corps.

Over the weekend I applied the cream and took the pills but my hand continued to swell up even more. By Monday morning the wound had opened up even more, was spitting out pus and constantly felt like I had slammed my finger in a car door. I called the Peace Corps doctors and they wanted me to go to see a doctor but, as luck would have it, the doctor in my city was out of town for the week. So I had to get on a bus and travel a couple hours to a hospital in a city called San Marcos.

When I saw the doctor in San Marcos I explained to him that, “Something bit me while I was sleeping last Thursday night.” To which he responded, “Do you know what bit you?” I said, “No I don’t. I was sleeping when it happened.” Then he examined my finger and put me through a most excruciating pain by squeezing my finger harder than it had ever been squeezed in my life. He said that he was trying to extract all of the pus but I do not know why because it returned a half an hour later and now my hand hurt even more than it had before. He prescribed me some kind of anti-inflammatory medication and Penicillin (thank you Alexander Fleming) and told me that I would need to keep squeezing the pus out of my finger for the next three or four days.

The bus ride back to my site was terrible. I was sitting on a crowded bus with my hand throbbing and feeling nauseous when the bus overheated going over some mountains and we had to stop for an hour to let the bus cool down and add more water. I got back home and started taking the medication but things didn’t start looking better for about three days. I thought I was going to loose my finger. Needless to say, it made the first week of being in my site a little rough. Finally the infection broke and I was able to sleep through the night without waking up with a throbbing finger.

Everything is better now and my hand is back to normal but I still do not know what bit me. Whatever it was, I hope those guys are not here in Ocotepeque. Mom and Dad, this is probably the first you are hearing about this. I did not tell you because I didn’t want you guys to worry and I didn’t want to you hear you say, “We told you that you should have put up your mosquito net.” Sometimes you have to learn the hard way and, I’ll tell you what, I learned my lesson.

I am including some pictures of my hand as it progressed. I am sorry to anyone that has a light stomach.

The morning after I my hand was bitten:

Three days after:

Four days after:

Five days after:

Two weeks after. Pretty much back to normal:

Check me out. I´m a volunteer!

Well, it’s official, after three months of putting my time in as a lowly Peace Corps Trainee; I am now a Peace Corps Volunteer. At the end of our training day on May 14th, I was presented a piece of paper that ended with the phrase, “Having no specific recommendations for Kyle Horton, training staff recommends that Peace Corps Honduras swear him in as a Peace Corps Volunteer of the training group Honduras 14.” Radical!

The next morning, we all loaded on to the bus just like every other morning…but something was different. Instead of the disheveled and tired looking bunch that usually occupied the seats, everyone was dressed to the nines looking like we were ready for a power lunch at a fortune 500 company. We headed down to the Peace Corps office in Tegucigalpa where we met our counterparts and had an hour to introduce ourselves. From there, we loaded the buses again and headed across town to the U.S. Embassy for the swear-in ceremony. Like you might expect, security was pretty tough at the embassy. Upon entrance to the building, we were made to pass through a metal detector and to surrender everything except for our cameras. We passed through the building and out into a beautiful courtyard/garden overlooking Tegucigalpa. For the first time since I have been in Honduras, I was able to sink my feet into a nicely manicured lawn (St. Augustine I think). The place was like a slice of America in the middle of the third world.

The ceremony was pretty uneventful. It started with all the Hondurans singing their national anthem and us doing our best to keep up with the lyrics that were on the back of the program. We sounded terrible. Then we sang the United States national anthem and some of the Hondurans in the crowd did us the favor of making us feel a little better about our effort at singing their anthem. The singing was followed by various speeches by the PC training director, the PC Honduras director, a couple of Hondurans that told success stories of their work with PC volunteers, the US ambassador, and one of our own. Finally, came the moment we had all been waiting for–the swearing in. We were told to stand up raise our right hands and repeat the following:

I [state your name]
do solemnly swear
that I will support and defend
the constitution of the United States
against all enemies foreign and domestic
and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.
That I take this obligation freely
without any mental reservation our purpose of evasion
and I will well and faithfully
discharge my duties in the Peace Corps.
So help me God.

This was followed by a bunch of tears, cheers, handshakes, and hugs. Of the 49 people that started training, 44 were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers. We then had a little time to have some cake and snap a few pictures before heading back up to the training center for lunch and a bunch of boring meetings with our counterparts that mostly centered on how the volunteer counterpart relationship is supposed to work. Then we were sent home to pack for an early departure the next morning without anytime to celebrate and say goodbye to some of the friends that we had made over the last three months (Not fair. Even the President gets to let loose after his swear-in day).

We were picked up the next morning at around five o’clock with our insane amounts of luggage and dropped off at the numerous bus stations in and around Tegucigalpa to head out to all corners of Honduras. As I said in my last post, I was sent to Ocotepeque, which is about as far west as you can go in the country. Since the infrastructure of Honduras is not all that it could be, I had to take a roundabout way of getting over here. My bus left Tegucigalpa at 7 am and I arrived in Ocotepeque at around 6:30 pm. That is a long time to be in a bus, especially when you consider that Honduras is only about the size of South Carolina.

So here I am in the city of Nueva Ocotepeque in the department of Ocotepeque. I have seen varying reports on the size of the city, anywhere between 10,000 and 25,000 people. The city lies in a valley is surrounded green mountains on all sides. It has a tropical climate with highs in the mid to upper 80s and lows in the 60s and we are now entering the rainy season (May-October) so it rains pretty much every afternoon. The city is about 8 km from the border of El Salvador and 22 km from the border of Guatemala. Because it is a border town, there is a lot of traffic that passes through. It also means that there is a lot of commerce and it has a pretty sweet open-air market where I will be able to pick from a large variety of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables once I am able to cook for myself. I am now living with my third and final host family and, for the third time, I am forced to walk through the house with my head bowed or else I will hit every doorjamb. The family is nice. The father (Roberto) is a mechanic and the mother (Geraldina) works in a local hardware store and they have two kids. Carmen Maria (16) and Ricardo (9) who both attend school during the day.

My days have seen an abrupt change since I arrived here. I went from having days chalk full of training activities from seven in the morning until five in the afternoon and then homework to occupy my nights to having pretty much nothing to do unless I actively seek it out. We are supposed to have 2-3 months of integration where we are supposed to spend time chatting with our host family, talking with our counterparts and trying to figure out exactly what their organizations do, walking around town and introducing ourselves to the “movers and shakers”, and getting to know the community. This is all fine and good, but there is only so many times that I can stand walking to the local pulperia to have a coke and trying to shake as many hands as I can on the way. This new pace of life is going to take some getting used to and hopefully in a few months I will be able to find out what it is that I will be doing here. This is what I signed up for and I have to embrace it. So, here we go!

Below are a few pictures from the swearing-in ceremony:

I was in the paper right next to Beyonce (top left corner):

Me with the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens:

A pic with the our Peace Corps business directors Jorge and Jesus:

The whole business group right after being sworn in:

A few of the business dudes:

Stoked to be a Peace Corps Volunteer!