Category:Urban and Regional Planning
From Peace Corps Wiki
EXCERPT: [[Link titleSouth of the Frontera; A Peace Crops Memoir, Lawrence F. Lihosit, iUniverse, 2010]]
He took his glasses off, set them on the desk and told me point-blank that it was good. He suggested that I continue the survey throughout the city and write a report which sounded crazy since Peace Corps volunteers were taught to speak a language, not read or write. He insisted that I could do it. So, I went to visit the mayor. When I entered his office he stood up solemnly and apologized which made me feel sad because I had just guessed based on some old aerial photos. Who could have known that it might happen so soon? Once I explained that it would be very helpful if the two men in the tax division could help me continue the housing study, he immediately picked up his telephone and had them officially assigned to me. What a strange moment. We began within days. Like my earlier studies, it took nearly a month for my team to complete the data collection in the field. I spent another week with a ten-key adding machine, calculating results. We took a random sample of each neighborhood in town. We noted the housing condition (some were in ruins). Using 1974 census data, I noted the year of construction, predominant material used for outside walls, predominant floor materials, number of persons per room, availability of electricity, water, and sewer. Some neighborhoods like Barrio Ingles had water, sewer and electric power but were overcrowded and ancient–in ruins. Other new squatter settlements had no infrastructure and the building materials were often not even permanent. I decided to prepare a matrix, assigning values in order to ascertain a relative comparison. Next, I found a small map of La Ceiba and took it to the corner pharmacy which had the only photocopy machine in town. It was an obsolete model which took nearly a minute for each copy which came out grey and wet, smelling like rotten eggs. You had to lay the sheet out to dry. The owner charged one American dollar per copy! I made a dozen. On each, I recorded the values of the matrix for each different factor, so that the results were visual.
Secrets (like a Mexican girlfriend) are easier heard than kept. I feared the worst when Armando came unannounced to find me in my La Ceiba office typing legends for my maps. He paged through my appendices of calculations and draft maps, smiling, then suggested that I take the day off. He had to drive to an isolated village to visit another volunteer. Since I had never been to the place and he could use some company, he said that it was a good fit. We climbed aboard his brand new imported North American four wheel drive vehicle. The sunlight, reflecting from the dashboard, made me shield my eyes. Within thirty minutes, he had crossed the one-lane wide bridge constructed of railroad ties which crossed the Cangrejal River. He drove almost due east, bumping along a dirt rut which wound through jungle only a quarter mile from an invisible ocean. The parrots in the trees chattered but if you listened attentively, you could hear waves lapping the shore, somewhere to our left, through the green canopy. Gone were the sounds of railroad engines, bells, clinking as a train engine backed down the wooden dock pushing boxcars full of green bananas to be loaded into German or Japanese or British or Chinese or North American freighters only two blocks from my office; gone was the white sunlight that made dock workers shield their eyes as they worked the aluminum conveyor belt assemblies; gone was the salt brine suspended in air that stuck to your sweaty back. Huge bright green and orange jungle parrots squawked loud as Armando’s jeep slowed to cross a stream which had washed out our rut. A break in the canopy above permitted a single ray of white light to shine down, reflecting off the clear running water that gurgled as a bead of perspiration dropped off my mustache onto my lips. Only a few miles from the third most populated city in the nation and there was no visible sign of man except a lone orange colored rut, sliced with streams. Armando whistled, hung one crooked arm out of his open window, steering with the other as we plowed through the stream. The jeep fishtailed while he pumped the accelerator and laughed. A shower of water flew up past our side windows like geysers. Then we stopped dead. The parrots squawked louder. We were stuck. Trucks did not pass often, sometimes for days. We took off our shirts, rolled up our pants and waded out. We gathered vines as close to the water’s edge as possible since Honduras had pit vipers, tropical rattlesnakes, fer-de-lance, coral snakes and even bushmasters. Within forty minutes we had created some fair ramps and Armando whooped as the jeep lurched forward and through the stream.
Armando laughed and pulled the jeep up onto solid ground as I splashed in the water like a crazy man. My brain was verb-conjugated fried by that report. I suspect that Armando must have felt the same after months of sitting stiffly behind a desk in the capital city, wearing a tie and repeating “Yes” to his new megalomaniac boss. He got out of the jeep and joined me in the stream. Soon, we rolled and played in the water, laughing hysterically while parrots squawked.
Armando was a fine guide. Later, after an hour following close to the ocean, he stopped in front of a shack alongside a bridged creek where white water rushed over boulders. A toothless old woman dressed in greasy rags sold us two warm soft drinks and some saltine crackers. Armando opened the bottle with his teeth just before we reboarded the jeep. We drank and ate as he drove. A tall black Carib who wore only trousers and carried a rifle stepped in front of our jeep as Armando stopped. He quickly told me that this was the watchman. Just up ahead, the ocean’s waves crashed. The underbrush thinned and on both sides of this dirt rut, palm trees towered. As the man stepped towards Armando’s window, Armando told me in English that this had once been a foreign owned plantation for the export of coconut. It was still owned by a foreign company that had since abandoned it when the price of coconut dropped.
Armando told the man in Spanish that we were sent by so and so because we were scientists who had just discovered that coconut was a cure for cancer. In no time, said Armando, the foreign company would reopen and there would be jobs for everyone. The man smiled and ran ahead. He climbed a tree and brought down coconuts for us. Overhead, dry palm fronds crackled. The rhythmic waves broke. After a quick swim in the ocean, a refreshing drink of raw coconut milk, and a meal of its white meat dug out with homemade coconut skin spoons, we drove off. The man waved his rifle in the air and smiled. Armando took a fork in the road that led up a mountain. We left the sounds of the ocean behind and they were replaced with bushes and thistles scraping across the jeep body and birds taking to wing. My back itched from the dried salt which clung to my back in white drips. Armando drove into a tiny hidden valley where corn stalks choked the narrow rut.
Armando parked in front of a low ranch style adobe building with a corrugated tin roof. He slipped on his soiled white shirt, combed his dark hair straight back while looking in his muddy side-view mirror, explaining that it was wise to look like authority. What’s-his-face (a pseudonym), the volunteer we were here to meet, had problems. Armando put on his dark glasses before his door creaked open and a mist of dust floated in.
Armando climbed back in alone and jammed the transmission into reverse, crunching gears. “He’s not at work again.” Armando drove two miles out of town to a lone tiny adobe home. Its metal roof reflected heat in waves. Inside, what’s-his-face lounged on a living room hammock. At first he was friendly, only occasionally wiping his dark hair from his brow in a peculiar habit. When Armando asked a few questions about work, what’s-it stood and paced the floor while he wiped his dark hair faster and faster, even when it was not on his brow. His voice rose to a squeal. He told stories about a string of failures and had reasons for each. Armando listened and told all the same stories over with a different twist. The volunteer paced faster.
Armando unloaded some supplies from his jeep and left a handbill about our upcoming group excursion across the country to an island in the Pacific, Ampala. He told what’s-his-face that he could charge his travel expenses to the Peace Corps as a per diem.
“I expect to see you,” Armando told him in English. We climbed back into the jeep. “He needs a vacation,” said Armando while turning the ignition key. For the next two hours the jeep’s engine whined. We were bucked up and down, side to side, as Armando veered past chuckholes. He maneuvered angles and forded streams without stopping until we neared the railroad tie bridge on the outskirts of La Ceiba. We waited as a large group of black women dressed in turbans and simple long pieces of cotton wrapped around their bodies crossed, carrying bundles on their heads. Without the jungle canopy it was much hotter. Armando unbuttoned the top three buttons of his shirt, took off his dark glasses and ran a hand through his hair. He slumped back into the seat and quizzed me about my Mexican girlfriend. He knew her name but never mentioned my secret vacation.
“My cousin José married a Mexican girl,” he said as he thumped his palm on the steering wheel. “They have a saying in Mexico: you marry the bride’s entire family.” Armando looked at me, smiling. “Watch out gringo.”
This category has only the following subcategory.
- [+] Cote d'Ivoire volunteers (1 C, 15 P)