02 March 2014

People we met on the Trip

“Regalo!” That's what The People of Honduras call me. They couldn't pronounce my name “Saugat” and gave me this new name after I told them that “Saugat” in Nepali means “gift”. They say that the name is suitable because I look like a Honduran and regalo is Spanish for gift. The locals in San Nicolas, however, call me “RegalaTION” because it sounded like an English word.

I had a chance to meet and interact with a lot of different people in Honduras. I even lived with a family in their house for 4 days, and I would like to tell you that the people of Honduras are AWESOME. They always smile despite the hardships they face and are extremely helpful. Multiple host families even gave us their kids' rooms while the whole family cramped up in one room, just to allow us to be comfortable. They are very good dancers. And more importantly they really appreciate AguaClara's efforts in Honduras and were willing to teach us during our short trip. It is always nice to see your work is appreciated and this motivated everyone in our group to put in more effort in research back at Cornell.

Ok! If I write everything I learned about the people of Honduras then this blog will be too long. So I have picked a few people to write about.

1. Drivers: (Jorge, Roger, Leopoldo) We had three drivers who drove us all over Honduras every day of our two week trip. They have been driving for AguaClara's annual trip for many years now. They were not only super skilled but also very hard working, humble and happy people. They learned everyone's name on day 1 and really got along with us. It was a tough job for them as we traveled almost everyday with a lot of luggage. Some trips were as long as 5 or 6 hours and often started early in the morning so people mostly slept in the vans. Nevertheless, the drivers always maintained their smiles and positive attitudes. They skillfully avoided almost every one of the infinite potholes on the road, ensuring a smooth drive.

Jorge: Our most experienced driver. He lives in the beach town of Tela with his wife and 9 kids. He told us his story of how he was going to be a priest but gave up after he fell in love with his wife. He spoke very little English but after a few days he understood us and we understood him even with the language barrier. At every opportunity he had, he would dance his heart out and coerce the rest of us in to dancing as well. His wife originally taught him to dance, and it was beautiful to hear about their life together and to see how much he now loved dancing.

Roger works as a driver for a Japanese non-profit in Tegucigalpa. He always played Honduran music and sang along as he drove. I wanted him to sing for my AguaClara movie but he respectfully declined. Though again there was a language barrier between us, by the end of the trip it hardly mattered at all. Our silent jokes, dancing, and love for baleadas, a Honduran food, made it easy to communicate with one of our great new friends.

Leopoldo was not only a driver but also our official translator for the trip and did a great job. He is from Honduras but lives in Atlanta where he works at a doctor's office. He was very important and popular as he spoke perfect English and Spanish. During the trip, he celebrated his birthday with some of his relatives there and we sang a very interesting spanglish rendition of “Happy Birthday”. Every year his birthday falls during our trip to Honduras, and he is kind enough to spend it with us rather than at his home in Atlanta. Without Leopoldo, I don’t know if we even would have made it out of the airport the first day.
Leopoldo (center, light-Teal polo) translating for us in Mariposales.

Antonio is a technician for Agua Para El Pueblo, AguaClara’s implementation partner  in Honduras. He was the primary planner of our trip and traveled along with us every day, teaching us about Honduras and the treatment plants we visited. He was very hard working and serious about work. I realized this in San Nicolas when I was filming the installation of ramp pump. He was working with Ariel and seemed so focused and into it that I didn't ask him any interview questions until the last the day when the ram pump was finally up and running. He was very happy to interview with me after that and commended all of us for our good work.
Antonio (left) working on the Ram Pump with Ariel in San Nicolas
Antonio has been assisting with the AguaClara trips for years and always plays an integral part in organizing the trip and transporting nearly 30 college students across the country for two weeks, no easy task. Similarly, Antonio is also responsible for training the plant operators and educating communities about the importance of clean water. From what we saw, he has been doing a great job. None of the plant operators are highly educated but they knew the AguaClara plants more than most of us and took pride in their jobs. He is probably the most important friend and employee AguaClara has in Honduras.

People of San Nicolas: We were in San Nicolas for 4 days so we met many people. On the very first night, the community organized a welcome ceremony for us with performances by a talented traditional Honduran dance group and an amazing folk band. We also made some local friends, played soccer (got owned) and also explored the out-skirts of the town. This is also where we lived with our host families.

A local dance group performing during the welcome ceremony in San Nicolas

I lived in Umberto's house. Umberto works for the municipality and lives in his beautiful house with his wife, 2 kids and his sister in-law. Ariel was my roommate which was great because he spoke Spanish. The house had 2 bedrooms and Umberto gave us one while everyone else in his family shared one room for the next 4 days. Everyday when me and Ariel got back home, we had long conversations with Umberto (Ariel translated everything  for me of course). He told us that everyone in the village was really happy that the plant was was being built in San Nicolas and he believes that the plant will help San Nicolas economically because more people will be interested in moving here and start businesses because of the availability of clean drinking water.

Over all, I really enjoyed my stay at Umberto's house. He gave us hats as presents and his wife gave us breakfast every morning so me and Ariel could sleep half-an hour longer while everyone went to Comedor cafe for breakfast. Also, his sister in law training to become an AguaClara plant operator which was also cool.

On the last day, the San Nicolas community organized a farewell dinner for us followed by a dance party. The hospitality of the people was great and no one wanted to leave San Nicolas.

Lastly, our trip wouldn't have been so successful without the help of these people. They never get any credit but it should be noted that the people of Honduras are largely responsible for AguaClara's immense success in Honduras.

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