15 August 2012

Estás En Tu Casa

Saludos from the West Coast blog fans! So much for keeping this updated as I travelled across the US (and back again, and back again, and back again, and then back one more time). I’d love to recount all of those great stories, and I hope to someday. But for now I am just going to pull a Tarantino and start at the end of the story. So I’ve just finished my first week of work at my new job. Feels kind of weird saying that, but alas, it’s true. Perhaps because it’s so new, or perhaps because it doesn’t really feel like a real job? Which is a good thing, because that means I like it. I got hired by a non-profit in Northern California called Puente de la Costa Sur, which serves a mainly agricultural area on the south coast of the San Francisco Penninsula, which is about an hour south of SF city and 45 minutes north of Santa Cruz. The town we are based in is called Pescadero. It's a really small town about two miles inland from Highway 1 on the Pacific Coast. Basically this is what my commute looks like every day (when its not foggy):
Puente (pronounced Pwen-tey, meaning “bridge” in Spanish) has been around in its current form for about 10 years (I think?) and serves as a resource center for the South Coast community, focusing mainly on the immigrant farmworkers and their families. For more on Puente, check out www.mypuente.org and look for us on facebook too! My role is Community Outreach Coordinator. A large part of my job is going to be getting out to the farms and ranches to talk to the workers there, make sure they know about all of the programs and services offered by Puente and also listen to their concerns/discuss any issues they may be having and figure out how we may be able to help. In general I am going try to be the eyes and ears of the organization, not only regarding the farmworkers but the ranch owners as well as other community members. In general, we want everyone to have the same access to services across the board. It’s tough because despite being only a few miles from one of the wealthiest places on earth (Silicon Valley just over the hill), in some ways this area is still like a developing country. There have been water quality issues, getting access to good health care is a challenge and the school district needs a lot of help as well. I think all of these issues have less to do with this community being primarily latino, I imagine many rural communities (both in the US and abroad) face these kinds of issues. Basically Puente tries to stick its neck out for those who can’t or don’t know how. Which is exactly what Rick Barga said about USG off-campus committee back at Ohio State. Perhaps I’ve been doing a variant on that role ever since... My first week of work was fabulous. It’s a great team full of very energetic, smart, and dedicated people. It is a mixture of both latino and white folks, I spend at least half of my day speaking spanish. Although pretty much everyone who works for us is bilingual. I haven’t spent much time with Mexican spanish so I am focusing on trying to pick up the small differences and some of the slang. There is at least one phrase, however, that carries over from the spanish I already know. Our office manager was showing me around on my first or second day and while we were in the kitchen portion of the office and she was pointing everything out, she said, “Estás en tu casa.” The literal translation of this phrase is “You are in your house,” but it’s basically the equivalent of “Make yourself at home.” Usually people say it when you arrive in their home and want you to be comfortable. But right then in that moment when I heard her say “You are in your house,” I couldn’t stop the huge grin from growing on my face. The awe and excitement of feeling good about being in a new place with a new job with all of these new people was a little overwhelming, and it was all brought out by that one little phrase. It was a good moment. The end of the day arrives and I find myself not wanting to go home. It is also a new feeling that I get to go home, since in Honduras “going home” mean walking into the next room for a few minutes before coming back to the room I worked in most of the day. No more of that. I actually get into my car and drive somewhere that is all my own...well sort of. My new living situation is pretty unique. I live in an 30’ RV on a horse ranch overlooking the ocean. While you absorb that, take a look at these pictures:
The owners are a married couple named Montrese and Anders, and they have a little daughter. She takes care of the animals (about 6 horses, 30 or so goats, and 27 chickens and ducks) and he is a contractor. They are very friendly and laid back, and I help them sometimes with work around the ranch. I like this set-up for sure. It’s often pretty foggy up here but when it clears up, the view is unbelievable. Rolling hills all around and an amazing view of the ocean. If I’m lucky I get to watch the sun set into the ocean right outside my window. A few examples:
There is a little stove where I can cook and a shower with a propane hot water heater, so most of my bases are covered. Since I am not driving it around, using the electrical appliances would run the battery down fairly quickly, so I am typing this by candlelight right now. It actually works out ok, there isn’t much space to be lit up anyway! I charge my computer and my phone at work or in my car and use them as needed. There is cell service so that’s not an issue either. It will be a great place to spend a few months while I look around for something more permanent. Every morning right outside my door there are horses running around in the mist, it’s kind of magical. Lots of wide open spaces, I have been enjoying taking walks with their dog around the land when I get a chance. She has told me there are horse trails all around too, so there should be plenty of hiking right outside my door. Here's a picture of my walking buddy, Nala:
When you let it, life can take you to some pretty unbelievable places. There is no way I could have predicted I would have landed in this situation, but when you stay open, flexible and willing to say “yes” a lot, there is no end to the interesting places you can end up.

21 April 2012

Fat Tire anyone?

New Belgium brewery tour, Fort Collins, CO

19 April 2012

A New York Minute (April 6)

A few hours of driving north on I-95 took me past Philadelphia to Princeton, NJ. Another Peace Corps friend, Dan Wright, has been at Princeton for the last few years in school. He had a class in New York City that day and had already left when I got there. I dropped my car at his place, assembled my bike, and rode to the Princeton Train Station. I quickly bought a ticket and made it just as the connection train was pulling out of the station, and then just made the transfer onto the next train to New York as it passed through the next station. I felt kind of important for things to work out like that for me, like the world revolved around me for those brief moments. The plan for the evening was for a bunch of Peace Corps folks to rendezvous and get some dinner. I met Dan at the apartment of our friends Katie and Noah, who live in the city. Katie, Noah, Dan and I all arrived in Bolivia together almost 6 years ago, which seems like a long time but we caught up as if no time had passed. Again, the kindred spirit of the Peace Corps volunteers. Here's a shot from the good 'ol days with the four of us on a hike in Bolivia (plus a couple of others)
Our other friend Lauren came briefly into town to say hello and introduce us to her new baby, Monica, who I found out was actually born on my birthday this year! Lauren and her partner Sean had come to Cincinnati back in 2009 to run the Flying Pig Marathon, and it was great to see them again briefly and catch up. We then headed out to dinner for Serbian food at a place called Kafana...I wasn't sure what to expect as far as Serbian food goes, and I can't tell you exactly what it was I ate but I do know that it was delicious. Another one of our friends, Ross, met us at the restaurant. Liz, a friend of mine from Honduras, who is also in NYC joined us as well. It was like my worlds colliding for a moment, which I actually always really enjoy. It had been almost a year since seeing Liz, who was one of my housemates in Santa Lucía and fellow coffee junkie. The meal and compartiendo were both excellent, for a moment it felt like being back in Bolivia again...like all of us were just in from our sites and enjoying a delicious dinner...the few differences being we didn't smell as much and the food was not nearly as cheap as Bolivian cusine! We headed out to a bar afterwards for drinks and met up with Brandon and Lex, two more volunteers currently living in the city. Turns out NYC is a haven for Bolivia RPCVs. Here's a shot of Dan and me at the bar, and I am of course wearing the sweet denim shirt Dan gave me as a gift last year.
Anyone bored and in the area should hit up Dan's Cinco de Mayo 30th birthday party in Princeton. There is talk of roasting an entire pig! (Although unlike Bolivia, they won't have to kill this one themselves). I was pretty worn out at this point from hopping from spot to spot, so Dan and I returned back to Katie and Noah's place to crash for the evening. After a light breakfast we were back on the train to Princeton the next morning. It was a quick trip but I knew I would be back to the city soon... Dan made me a delicious sandwich before sending me on my way to State College, PA.

Baltimore: Expect the unexpected (April 5-6)

I got off the train and Baltimore Penn Station and took a bus that dropped me a few blocks from my friend Jacky's house. Jacky is a friend from the Bolivia days and in general one of the funniest people I know. My time in Baltimore was short but thanks to Jacky it was far from uneventful! Jacky managed to find two super cool roommates in Baltimore, also RPCVs. Jenny was in Mozambique and Nora was in Lesotho. I have found that Peace Corps definitely attracts a certain breed and that I enjoy that breed and folks of that breed often get along with one another...Nora and Jenny were no exception. They showed me around the area they live (Fell's Point, very nice) and I learned something about Baltimore I didn't know:
Who knew? Here's a shot of Jacky and me by the water
After the tour of the neighborhood and the docks, we ended up at a pizza joint called Johnny Rad's...which was delicious and had good beer selection. We laughed through the entire meal and fun was had by all, except when Nora whipped my tail in Skee Ball. In all fairness, I had not played in a very long time, and she was somewhat of a ringer. We picked up some local beer on the walk home and the merrymaking continued on Washington St. Fleetwood Mac's Rumors was playing on the turntable and we thought it would be a good idea to light some dandelions on fire. I am not quite sure at what point in my life I figured out that dandelions (or whatever you call the white poofy seed version that is pre-dandelion) put on quite a spectacle when you light them on fire, but the fact is, they do. Jacky had a lovely bouquet of these in the kitchen which we promptly took up to the patio and commenced burning. It got a little dicey when they decided to put them in their mouths before lighting, but I assure you no RPCVs were harmed during the taking of this photo:
The evening wound down and I settled in for a good night's sleep on the downstairs futon. I fell asleep thinking that really the only previous impression I had of Baltimore came from watching the HBO series The Wire, which deals with cops and drug dealers...not the prettiest picture. But I found myself really liking it, which of course had mostly to do with my great hostesses, but it seemed to be a nice city nonetheless. The next morning we headed back down to the water for breakfast at Jimmy's Diner...it was delicious and filling and full of baseball fans due to the opening day festivities. Our next task was to drop Jenny at the airport, on the way to which Jacky DJ'd some excellent tunes and we danced and sang like a Brownie troop on a bus to camp. We had to stop for gas, but that didn't stop Jenny from busting out Mmmmbop while she pumped!
We said a tearful goodbye to Jenny and scolded her for breaking up the band. Our next task was to drop Nora at the car rental place, she was heading home too. Jacky and I returned home and I packed up to set off on the next leg of my journey. I hadn't driven in almost two whole days and I was glad to have a short 3 hour drive to my next destination. It was an awesome 18 hours or so in Baltimore, and I looked forward to many more random nights of excellent people, food and drink. Who was to know what was in store over the next weeks of traveling...
The fantastic four: Ben, Nora, Jacky, Jenny

...so I went to our nation's capital AGAIN and met up with Joe Shultz AGAIN... (April 4))

From Charlottesville I drove across Virginia to Maryland, the strangest shaped state in the union, in my opinion. I dropped my car at a friend's place in Baltimore and hopped on a train to Washington, DC. Parking in DC was not something I was excited about, hence leaving the car. Not to mention trains and public transportation on the east coast are prevalent and easy to use. More on that later. I was greeted at Union Station in DC by my jolly old friend, Joe Shultz. I have visited Joe in DC a handful of times over the past few years and it is of course always an enjoyable stay. We headed out to H Street for mussels and beer at Granville Moore's, a spot we have hit up several times in the past that never disappoints. We were joined by another OSU friend, Anne Knapke. It was fun to catch up and reminisce about the college days as well as hear about what we are all up to now and looking to in the future. Having been on the road for over two weeks now as I write this, I have had this conversation many times with many different people, and it has yet to get old. Most people say they are envious of the time I have to spend out traveling and visiting, and I certainly don't blame them. I also really enjoy hearing about what friends are up to or looking to do next. Taking a moment to think about all the people I have met along the way and where they all are in their lives really blows my mind sometimes. I'm just one person, and I know a lot of people who all have amazing and interesting lives...it's just incredible to me how that extrapolates out across the entire planet...so many people with so many different lives... Anyway, it was a nice night out. The next morning Joe and I grabbed a quick breakfast before he hopped in a cab and said, "Take me to the Senate!" I didn't take any pictures of Joe so I thought I'd put up a throwback shot from a few years ago of Joe enjoying a stogie on the California coast:
I then took a walk up to another friend's apartment, one Miss Tahira Rehmatullah. Tahira has had many nicknames over the years but for ease and appropriateness I will refer to her simply as "T." It had been about a year and a half since our paths crossed last, during which she had moved to DC from Brooklyn for a yearlong fellowship. We grabbed a cup of coffee and caught up for a bit at a place that shares a name with another friend of ours, David Tynan:
T was on her way out of town so I left her to finish up some work and pack up. I headed down to the DC Mall (not a place to shop for those of you who don't know) and decided to hit up the Air and Space Museum. It was very enjoyable despite also being attended by approximately 67 million junior high school students on spring break bus trips. I exercised patience since I was also once one of those students way back in 1995 or something. I really enjoyed the museum, especially learning more about the Wright Brothers. I have a huge sense of pride being from the same state as the Wright Brothers and also find it entertaining that they ran a bicycle shop before tackling flying. As I journey across the country trying to figure out what's next for me, I found this quote fairly appropriate. Perhaps it's a sign?
I went to meet Joe for a quick lunch at Union Station before heading out of town. He left me with a tough question to think about as I journeyed on..."So, how do you make this trip about what's next in your life and not just about visiting friends?" I didn't have a good answer for him then but hopefully those answers may present themselves out here on the road. Because for the most part, so far, it has been simply to visit friends. Before heading to the train station, I made a quick trip to visit the national Marine Corps Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima statue. It's one of my favorite things to see in DC. On my walk from the Metro station to capital, I actually walked over US Route 50, which had I turned west at that moment, I could have trekked directly back to Cincinnati if the spirt so moved me. I headed onto the statue instead:
It was a nice place to sit for a few minutes, but then I had train places to be. As I rode on the train back to Baltimore, I kept thinking about what Joe had said...

Setting Forth (April 2-4)

The first stop on my new journey was Charlottesville, Virginia. It was about a 7 hour drive from Cincy through eastern Ohio, West Virginia, and finally western Virginia. It was a fairly uneventful ride and included listening to many road trip themed songs. I kicked it off with "Born To Run" by Bruce Springsteen and a new favorite, "Windows Are Rolled Down" by Amos Lee. Thanks to George Wang for the song rec, it has become one of my daily go-tos while on the road. It was a beautiful day for a beautiful drive, warm and sunny through the Appalachian Mountains. Here's a shot from an overlook in the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 40 miles West of my final destination in Charlottesville.
I was headed to the home of my good friends from the Peace Corps days, Tom and Anna Sullivan. Our time was spent laughing and catching up, as well as being entertained by their beautiful daughter, May Bird. May Bird is about to turn 2 and is already an expert iPad operator, as well as a pretty good cook!
Upon my arrival Anna, May and I walked into town for a delicious Mexican food dinner at a restaurant called Guadalajara and then spent sometime walking the historic downtown mall, a very nice cobblestone retail district. One of the not so historic places we saw was Miller's bar, where Dave Matthews used to tend bar:
The next day Tom took me up to Monticello, the historic plantation home of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was a Charlottesville native and considers designing the University of Virginia in Charlottesville one of his greatest achievements. Not only was the building beautiful and incredibly designed, the grounds and museums telling all about everything Jefferson were fascinating as well. It is definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the area. Here are a few shots of Monticello:
Ol' TJ and myself, with historically accurate shuttle busses in the background
Papa Tom and baby May Bird hanging out by the pond
The house and the lawn
I really enjoyed spending time at Monticello, Jefferson truly was an amazing human being. He was a lawyer by training but taught himself architecture and 4 or 5 languages. His experiences in France influenced the styles he used as well as the food that was prepared for his guests. The tour guide did not make this claim outright, but alluded to Macaroni and Cheese being invented at Monticello. I haven't even mentioned his other life accomplishments like writing the Declaration of Independence, becoming President, or buying the Louisiana Purchase...quite a resumé! That evening we enjoyed some delicious fish tacos fried up by Tom using Alaskan Halibut sent from our good friend George McGuan in Alaska...so very delicious!
The next morning I said goodbye to Tom as he went off to work and Anna and I drove out to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a hike and bike ride. She and May Bird hiked, I biked. Really nice views despite some clouds. It was great to get out and get some exercise in.
Shenendoah River valley Anna and I stopped for delicious sandwiches on the ride home before I packed up and headed further east. The Sullivans' home in Bolivia was a refuge for me when I needed a break, and their doors were always open. We shared many laughs and big hugs back in those days and nothing has changed. It was the perfect kickoff to the trip and I am forever grateful for their generosity, hospitality and friendship. Onto the next stop!

17 April 2012

End of Radio Silence

Greetings Readers! Well, this has without a doubt been the longest drought of updates in the history of the Story of Ben, it has been about a year and a half since I last shared anything here. I may put up some stories and photos from the last 18 months at some point, but for now I am just going to start fresh after briefly bringing you up to speed: I finished up my time with Shoulder to Shoulder in Honduras at the end of July 2011. I returned to Cincinnati where I moved in with my sister and her family in Norwood. I worked and saved some money, took a few trips and got involved in a few interesting projects along the way. Then I cut my hair (first real haircut in almost six years) and on April 2nd, 2012 I packed up my car (yes, White Rice still rides on...thanks to some engine work I will surely describe in a later post) and set out on the road. I first headed east through Virginia and DC, up to New York City, Philadelphia and State College, PA. From there it was onto Cleveland and Chicago, and I currently find myself in Minneapolis, MN with plans to drive to Colorado tomorrow. I will do my best to bring you up to speed on all of that in subsequent posts, as well as continue with more "live" updates as the journey continues...final destination TBD. I hope to entertain and update all those who wish to be entertained and updated.

20 November 2010

Back (b)Logs, May-November 2010

Blog Faithful (if there are any more of you out there),

Every few months I decide that I'm going to update this thing more often. I put up a few posts but then fall behind again. So here I am 5 months down the road from my last post and will attempt to do a little catch up here. I'm not going to say that I will try to update this thing more often, although I will. The thing is, life is often so hectic around here that it's almost not worth updating you all on the changes because it will just change again. Regardless, I've gone through the past few months and chosen some photos to help tell my stories. I have spent my entire Saturday reliving these past 5 months or so, and it has been fantastic. I am reminded of a conversation I had with my mom on my 20th birthday. I said, "Yeah Mom, I can't believe I'm 20. The second ten years went a LOT faster than the first ten." She chuckled a bit and responded with, "Wait until the next 10." As I close in on my 29th birthday, it couldn't be more pertinent. My 10 year high school reunion is this Friday. I won't be able to make it, but I will spend that evening remembering fondly the years I spent walking Oak Hills and hanging out at football games and at the Shack. Time keeps rolling on by. I'm lucky enough to be able to say that I feel like I've done quite a lot with the time that's been afforded to me.

Anyway, back to the blog. Aside from a couple random updates in June, the last news I've given has been from around March/April of this year. Since then my boss has left, a new one has been hired and then fired, we've had about 13 brigades in and out of Intibucá and I've made three trips to Los United eStates. I woke up this morning wondering where November went. Then I thought about it and am now wondering where 2010 has gone. This has without a doubt been the busiest year of my life. I have the realest job I've ever had (not to be confused with "the toughest job you'll ever love"), hundreds of people have come in and out of our little world down here, some hang around in my mind, some don't. I rarely get to see my family but when I do I cherish the time and to me it really doesn't seem all that long since the previous visit. But then I realize Riley is doing new tricks, Maurie and Josh have a new house and my parents are taking on new and exciting challenges. A lot of things back home stay the same, but a lot of things don't. Well, without further rambling, read on down for some news. The first entry in this group is "America, Take 1" and they are in reverse chronological order from the bottom up...so if you're a timeline type person, start at the bottom. I'd suggest getting a cup of coffee.

My coffee spot each morning, watching the mist burn off...revealing the mountains above Santa Lucía.

A New Day Dawns (September-November 2010)

When we last left our hero, he was full of White Castle sliders on plane having just enjoyed a fun night with his family. I rendezvoused in Houston with Art and Dick, two of our Shoulder to Shoulder muckity mucks who were headed down to do some assessment and re-organization. Shoulder to Shoulder has been growing at an incredible rate for the last few years, and these past few months have been no exception. Our recently hired national director was given the boot a week prior to their visit, so one of their tasks was to figure out how to keep things running without a big bossman. They had a whole host of other tasks as well. I'd say it was a pivotal point for StoS, but personally I feel like we've been at a pivotal point since I've been here and I don't see it ending soon. Ideas arise, new policies are developed and implemented, but the feeling of crisis mode does not often leave us. I do truly believe that the crisis mode is one of the things that keeps this job so exciting.

It was truly inspiring to watch Art and Dick hammer away at their to-do lists. They are up before dawn running around in head-lamps until late at night holding meetings as their eyes get heavy. For a couple of guys in their 50s and 60s they certainly are a fine example of what life can be like if you take care of yourself when you're younger. All Dick needs is a cup of coffee now and then and he's good to go, Art will settle for some pancakes and a glass of water. Their 2-week visit marked the beginning of a new day, at least for me it feels like. My job is constantly changing, people coming under my supervision and leaving it...this entire organization has been one big experiment since its inception. Trying to piece it all together taking into account an seemingly infinite number of factors, Art and Dick are on a mission to make it work. For all of their time and effort, they are without a doubt a pleasure to be around. They've both got great stories and great life experiences that make you just want to be around them just to catch a tidbit here or a nugget there about any number of things ranging from oral surgery to cave diving. By the time they left, I myself was waking up at 4:30 to start working. I've since managed to sleep in a little longer, but not by much.

They left us with a leadership team made up of 8 people, those of us who have been here the longest and who are most involved with different parts of the organization. The team will handle issues together, supporting one-another through whatever problems we might be having. Weekly meetings are a must, despite the hurdles of having people in 2 different sites an hour away from one-another and none of us with a ton of free time.

So far things are humming along fairly well. There are certainly plenty of areas we need to work on but personally I feel like I have hit my stride. I have enough time here for people to know me well and work well alongside me. I know enough about where the org was before I got here, what it's been through since I've been here and where we want it to go to feel pretty confident we are moving in the right direction.

The biggest change around here lately has been the huge influx of gringos in the past few months. In August we had 6 new volunteers arrive, in September we had 1 more and October saw the arrival of a new employee. Count them up, that's 8 new people to work with as well as live with...not to mention the fact that they are all female. Our living/working situation has never really been ideal or really healthy. And while each and every one of them are great people in their own right and all are here to work hard and help out, it certainly can make for a trying social dynamic at times. You start to realize why people around here tend to be territorial about their stuff and why others may not want to hang out all the time. Nothing here is our own, not even our personal space. It can ben challenging but it can also be fantastic. It is a great support network, especially for all of them who have arrived around the same time. And there is certainly plenty of work to be done that they are supporting with.

Shoulder to Shoulder never ceases to frustrate or amaze me. There are certainly those days where you feel like the world is collapsing and that there is no way out. But there are other days where I am truly inspired to work my ass off to make this thing work. And of course there is everything in between.

"Let's All Go Home Again..." (America, September 2010)

By the time September rolled around, I was very excited to get back to America and back to Ohio. My trip to seattle in May was excellent but you can't beat Ohio in the fall for my money. Also, I had not seen my niece and nephew for 9 months, which for little kids means you miss A LOT. Before I made it back to Ohio, however I took a few detours, borrowed a car and did some road tripping. From Hondo I flew into DC where I spent a fun couple of days with Joe Shultz. We went out for drinks and yummy food, he showed me his office downtown and I did some sightseeing of my own walking around the monuments. The highlight was definitely a Belgian restaurant with delicious food and even more delicious beer. I also managed to sneak in a quick lunch with my friend Lynn Walroth from high school, and Lynn was even kind enough to lend me her car to do a little road tripping. Despite nearly not making it out of the parking garage, I was soon on my way to Philadelphia to meet up with some of the old Sphinx crew for a wedding. We spent a fun few days in Philly...eating, drinking and being merry. Nathan was kind enough to lend me some nice clothes on which I proceeded to spill pizza sauce on. Sorry Nate! It was great to see the old crew again, just like old times, except for all of the smart phones everyone had, directing them everywhere. No one in America just walks around any more exploring. It's quite sad. Pero así es. Here is a shot of some of the gang at the wedding:

Left to right: Josh, Nathan, Ben, Frank

I hopped back in the borrowed Camry and headed back South. Around DC I turned West towards Charlottesville, VA. I arrived at the home of Tom and Anna Sullivan around 5pm. Tom and Anna are two of my favorites from the Peace Corps days...they had just had a baby a few months earlier and I was eager to meet little May Bird Sullivan. She was huge! Quite the chunker, truly. Anna beams as she says "she's in the 98th percentile for weight for her age." It was fabulous to hang out with them, albeit short. We checked out downtown Charlottesville and Anna, May and I took an excellent hike the next morning. We met up with Tom for lunch and then I made my way out of town back to DC. I got the car back to Lynn's place and she let me crash there before I flew out the next morning...back to Ohio!

It was a packed trip while I was home. I got to see my sister's new house and was welcomed up to Caca's new house on the third floor by a very excited Riley Jo. I got see the legendary Harvest Home Parade, tailgated at OSU for the Miami game and even got to hit up Red River Gorge with my brother-in-law Joshua for some climbing. The weather was amazing at the gorge and the place was deserted. We had a fantastic trip...great climbing and good pizza from Miguel's. I suited up again for the Yidiots, shagging a few screamers hit to right field and even got a hit. Had a good time chattin in up with the yidiots on the wall afterwards as well, smoking cigars and regaling them with stories of the third world. Then I got some Skyline with Dad, can't beat that with a stick. Here are some shots from home:

The toughest crowd in Cheviot, the Ranzes! That bench and those chairs had been chained to the street sign for three weeks.

Greemaw and Riley Jo getting ready for the parade.

Brothers Scott and Joe showing their support...not so much for the names on the cups as for the contents of the cups!

My nephew Conrad hanging out on the porch in Norwood. He's a ladykiller, this one.

The kids hanging out with Dad and Paw at the zoo...Joe was re-stucco-ing the inside of the flamingo house. Wild.

Another one of Conrad at the zoo with his "Little Brother" hat...he and I have that in common! I will be the first to come to his defense when Big Sister is picking on him...

The tailgating crew...friends from yesteryear at OSU: Tynan, Nathan, Josh, T, Amy, Ben, Joey...I got a bunch of crap for not wearing buckeye gear, but at least I had the right colors.

While I was up at OSU I got to see the new student union for the first time...it was wild. The old student union was a place where I spent SO much time in college...and it was just this old run-down building...it did the job fine but this place was immaculate. I got a sweet tour from my new unofficial stater buddy Shannon Flynn, all the way to the Stater office! This picture depicts the bricks my friends and I bought to immortalize ourselves in the union, er, I mean support construction. Strung together the words under our names are a verse of our Alma Mater, Carmen Ohio. Sweet.

Through a random and fortunate series of events, I also managed to cross another state off of my list. A last-minute road trip to Vermont capped off my time in Ohio masterfully...nothing like being spontaneous! I flew back to Columbus the day after getting to Vermont and shared a delicious El Vaquero dinner with some good friends from college. Oh man El Vaquero sounds so good right now. Anyway, dinner was with Suzi and Sean McClory who are expecting a baby next year (Congrats guys!) and David Morgan and Hannah Merril, who are getting married in June 2011. Dave and Hannah even let me crash on their wonderfully comfortable bed that night. The following morning I headed out to visit the Kreiners, Matt and Melanie who had just had a little baby named Jackson the week before...it was great to meet the little tyke and have a little coffee catch-up time with my good pal Matt. Lots of big changes for lots of people! I made back to Dave's house only to find out that my parents had forgotten to grab my suit on their way out of Cincinnati, which I needed for my cousin's wedding that night. Without blinking an eye David took me upstairs to his closet and started choosing and ironing things. Lucky for me I had been crashing with just about the best-dressed friend I have! This would be the second borrowed suit on this trip. My friends are incredible. I didn't spill anything on this one, though.

So the whole motivation for this journey back to the states was my cousin Leslie's wedding. She and her now-husband Daniel had been engaged for about a year and a half or so, dating for many more years than that. I had been looking forward to this day for a long time. Not only for the part about celebrating Leslie and Daniel getting to spend the rest of their lives together, but also because it meant a super-fun time with my family. Living in Honduras means I miss most family functions, even the big ones like camping trips and 4th of July. So I was looking forward to making the best out of this one. It was a beautiful wedding at Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus and we had a blast at the reception afterwards. Don't invite the Ranz cousins to your wedding, unless you want behavior like this:
Mike, Jason, Shane, Seth, Brad, Dave (hidden) and myself...exploring the foliage

It was very fun to catch up with everyone. The shuttle took us back to the hotel afterwards and noticing that familiar hungry look in everyone's eyes, I took it upon myself to walk to White Castle and buy 2 30 packs of hamburgers. There was no other choice. I used my local knowledge (and sniffer) to seek out the closest CRAVE castle and they were ready surprisingly quick for 2am. I was hailed a hero amongst my family before we headed back to the hotel to grab a couple hours of sleep. The next morning I was on a 6am flight back to Honduras.

More Days In The Lives (Honduras, August-October 2010)

A few more glimpses into our daily work and social lives here in Hondo.

Doña Lidia sometimes helps out our cooks and also washes sheets in the clinic. This is her with her grand-daughter in the clinic.

Don Tino is our head driver and all-around super star. Here we are loading up some nutrition supplement for delivery to San Pedro. Don Tino is a great guy and always has a smile on his face. Truly one of my favorite people I have met here.

On the trip out with a brigade, we made a stop-off at one of our favorite oases, the Honduran Microbrewery. It's run by an Oregon Expat named Bob, very interesting guy. He had me eat termites once to try and cure my allergies. It didn't work. Left to right: Ben, Kerri (nutrition project manger), Sangeeta (superstar volunteer), Alan (database monkey)

In order to get some information straightened out regarding a water system that feeds a community where we work, our resident Civil Engineer Walter (foreground) accompanied Don Felipe (background) to walk the length of the water system. It was a good hike, informative trip and nice excuse to get out into the field.

One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is getting to spend time with some amazing people. Here are two of my favorites. On the left is Dr. Emily Harrison from Brown University. Emily is on our executive board and has been the driving force behind the Guachipilincito clinic for the past few years. She snuck down for a quick 4 day trip and I acted as her personal assistant as usual. She is a true pleasure to be around, a great friend and mentor. In the middle here is Dr. Ed Zuroweste, quite possibly the coolest person I've ever met. Ed has more good stories than any other person I have ever met, including the one after getting rejected from med school in America, he applied and got in to Guadalajara University in Mexico, where he spent two years studying. The even more impressive part is that ED DIDN'T SPEAK A WORD OF SPANISH before starting med school in mexico. That's just the tip of the iceberg of Ed stories.

Another car issue. This is Marvin, our always jolly brigade coordinator. You can see his car had seen better days at this point. He made it to the shop (driving very slowly) where they welded the frame back together

So pretty much everything we have in our apartment is hand me down from the various people who have been in and out of Santa Lucía over the years. One example is this couch. It has been in this state since I arrived 14 months ago. After repeated inner-thigh injuries and the desire to sit comfortably to watch a movie, we recently finally took action. With some plywood, mattress foam and a couple of sheets, Alex and Jess have revolutionized our living space. We now have a comfy couch. See the next photo for the final product and happy gringos.

I mentioned in an earlier post that trucks are what make us run. Well, this Ford Ranger has been the bane of my existence for a long time now. A few months ago the front differential took a complete dump and since there are no tow-truck services in Intibucá (possible economic opportunity here), we had to put the truck into our bigger box truck. I was skeptical. When I asked Don Tino how we would get it in the truck Don Tino responded with "haha Benjamín, that's the easy part! Getting it OUT of the truck is going to be tricky!" Damned if he wasn't right.

I didn't quite get the truck where it needed to be, so we called in the big guns to slide it over a tad so it would fit properly. Talk about Shoulder to Shoulder!