Honduras at Easter

 

Easter

Laura reminds me that I haven’t sent out a personal blog in quite some time. It was Christmas and now it’s Easter. So these holidays do make me think of family and friends. As much as we love Honduras, and as much as we love what we’re doing, it is a little hard to not be home on these special holidays. We just couldn’t do that this year. We’ve decided to treat these holidays as our personal vacation time. We do that for many of the reasons I listed in the Christmas blog. Also, nothing by the way of work happens in Honduras during Holy Week. We just thought it best to get away, do something unique and special.

beersatD&D

Selection of beers at the D7D Brewewry

Maybe not exactly unique. We thought about going to Cuba, but we waited too long to book flights and they were very expensive. We thought a little bit about going to the south shore of the country, an island named Ampala that is the less favored tourist area of Honduras. But that seemed like it would be too far. Busses are unreliable during Holy Week, so we actually would take the company car. Ampala would have been too many miles. In the end, we decided to return to Lake Yojoa and the D&D Brewery and Lodge where we went at Christmas. We liked it the first time, and there were things we had not yet done there, so what the heck. Besides, it’s one of the few places in all of Honduras where you can get a cheeseburger that almost tastes like a cheeseburger is supposed to taste. Plus, Honduras’ national beers taste just like Bud Light. D&D, being the only microbrewery in all of Honduras, is also the only place you can get a rich, dark lager (personally I prefer the “cafetero,” rich and dark with a hint of coffee flavor). I won’t even mention the chocolate cake, the ice cream, and the homemade root beer. Oops, I just did mention them – well, they’re good too.

IMG_20170414_124440.jpgIMG_20170415_143143.jpg

At Christmas we met a lot of ex-pat Americans like ourselves. We expected that again. But, oddly we met a lot more Hondurans than Americans. They were not very much like the Hondurans we know. The ones who came to stay for a few overnights certainly had money. To watch them was a great sport. Their clothes, their mannerisms, even the size of their waists, had us thinking that they were really Americans who happened to speak Spanish. There were a few Honduran families, however, that came out on day trips to the eco-bio-park where we were staying (the spill over rooms from D&D when they are all filled up). This was encouraging because these families seem to comprise a small middle class. They, like us, enjoyed the beauty and natural entertainment of the coffee / cacao farm, splashing in and out of the cold, exceptionally clean water of the river, walking the paths and witnessing gorgeous gigantic trees and tropical flowers, or simply sitting at a picnic bench reading a good book. These people and we were simply very grateful for this special gift of respite.

Bioparqueparadise

This is where we stayed. We have no idea why the “P” in Parque is separated out.

 

So expecting Americans and a taste of US culture, we instead saw an oddly unfamiliar Honduras. We think of Honduras as the rural poor. But there is a cosmopolitan Honduras with folks that emulate the US ideal of having “made it.”  It took me a little time to realize that these people were not the only people who came out from the cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula to enjoy the naturalness of Lake Yojoa. There were families who came loaded in utility vans; well off enough to find a utility van large enough to fit the extended family, but not quite well off enough to arrive in a polished, Land Cruiser. There were also young, college students who camped and hitched rides so they could afford a small, adventurous get-away. We don’t usually see Hondurans like these, but it was certainly encouraging and refreshing to see them. We met a group of these college students as we climbed Cerro Azul Meámbar at one of Honduras’ few national parks. It’s a good hike, overlooking the lake, and on coming down we had lunch at the Panacam Lodge, where we might have stayed if it wasn’t booked and it wasn’t a bit pricey. On the way up and way down, we kept on running into the same group of college students with whom we made jokes about the strenuous climb and our differences in ages. Honduras is a very small place. On our way back to Camasca on Sunday, on the main highway, this same group of students was on the main road hitching a ride back to Tegucigalpa. We brought them halfway in the bed of the pickup. Feeling guilty about taking the company car, this assuaged my guilt.

IMG_20170415_123000.jpgIMG_20170416_093134.jpg

 

As I just said, Honduras is a small country. You’d think after three years here we would have seen about everything there is to see. But with a trip like this you realize there are more nuances to this country than one would first believe. Its beauty is inspiring. Just outside our hotel room at the Bio Ecopark Paradise we discovered these gorgeous red flowers at least seven feet high. We had a lovely morning kayaking the canal from the town we stayed in out onto the lake. Another morning we went to the site of archeological ruins along the lakes shore, also in the town we stayed at. The ruins themselves, unfortunately, were mounded over with topsoil and vegetation because Honduras simply does not have the resources or the archeologists to fully uncover the site. Still, it gives one pause to see remnants of a civilization that predated the Mayans at Copan. We also rested a bit, read books, enjoyed hammocks, and got a little sunburned.

We must say that we certainly did miss our families and friends at Easter. But, we do appreciate discovering the beauty of this country. We love Honduras and we love the work we are doing. We will be home in July, catching a ride with the Honduran Robotics Team from Camasca and Concepción. But that’s a whole different story… One you can read about at http://hondurasrobot.org/.

¡Felices Pascuas!

New Holiday Traditions

As I begin to write this, it is New Years Day and I am sitting at the computer screen in our very cold home in La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras. The internet says it is 70˚ F., but I don’t believe it. I know, those of you from the northern US are laughing at me. But, one expects a great deal more from the weather when you are living in the tropics. Besides, there is no heat inside our house! It’s cold!

For the first time in the four years we have lived in Honduras we decided not to return to the States for Christmas / New Years. That had me a little concerned. One, we wouldn’t be seeing our friends and family. Two, we would have to endure holiday traditions that are foreign. For the first issue, we’d been back to the States in October for Laura’s Mom’s 90th birthday party. We managed to see most of our family and friends then. For the second issue, we needed to get creative.

Image result for images tamales

Hmmm… So good!

Christmas is celebrated on December 24, and really very little happens on the 25th. Families usually gather in the evening and head out to a church celebration somewhere between 9PM and midnight. Upon returning from church, the family, a very large grouping, sits down to a huge meal. There are lots of tamales – corn meal made into a paste and infused with various vegetables, raisins, nuts and, for special occasions, some meat, generally chicken, all molded into a banana leaf shell. This is not appealing to me, though Laura can handle them. Everyone is making and selling these throughout the days leading up to Christmas and through the New Year. A US analogy might be the ubiquitous fruit cake. Besides this, there are fireworks. Not really pretty fireworks either, simply these rockets that fly up into the air and make a huge, noisy explosion that then makes all the dogs start barking.

 

Aside: I think rockets or fireworks for Christmas is simply out of place, even bad taste. Welcoming the Christ child with noisy bombs that also have the potential to cause serious bodily damage just doesn’t seem appropriate. Then again when I think about it, a fat elfish looking creature smoking a pipe, yelling out “Ho, Ho, Ho!,” sliding down chimneys, and riding through the night in a snow sled propelled by flying reindeer doesn’t seem that fitting either. But, that’s my Christmas tradition, and if the Hondurans don’t need to make excuses for theirs, I’m not making any for mine.

 

Lots of people invited us to their December 24 Nochebuena celebrations. It really wasn’t what we wanted to do for our Christmas, so we had to think of a way to decline all the invitations without offending anyone. We decided on taking a mini-vacation. Lake Yajoa is a pretty big lake and the only one in Honduras. We’ve driven by it a number of times, did stop once at one of the many highway restaurants to enjoy fried fish, but we’ve never really explored it. An American, Bob, who we know from attending NGO conferences in Copan Ruinas, runs a brewery / lodge on the lake called D & D Brewery. It’s the only micro brewery in all of Honduras, and it caters to English-speaking volunteers and eco-tourists. We thought we’d give it a try. It was without doubt the most unique Christmas we’ve ever had.

lakeyajoafromnalgas2

View of Lake Yajoa from Butt Cheeks Mountain

Who spends Christmas at a lake lodge for English-speaking tourists, adventurists, and non-profit, save-the-world do-gooders? Surprisingly, quite a few people. Mostly they were very young, avant-garde types bucking traditions – perhaps anti St. Nicholas types. But we met a few people with whom we enjoyed some spirited bonding. One guy, about our age, from San Francisco, retired from teaching seventeen years ago. Apparently independently wealthy, he’s been traveling the world ever since and spent about ten years in Thailand. He made for interesting conversation at meals. We ended up climbing a mountain called Cerro de Las Nalgas (Butt Cheeks Mountain – I kid you not) for a vista of the lake with a retired New Zealand couple and two young women from Canada on Christmas Day. That was certainly unique. We had a few conversations with another married couple who live in Tegucigalpa and were celebrating their wedding anniversary. She works with a non-profit NGO and he works with the US State Department. He didn’t tell us what he did with the State Department, and all I could think of was that perhaps he couldn’t or he’d have to kill us. These were people we would perhaps never meet unless we decided to spend Christmas at the D & D Brewery on Lake Yajoa.

Related image

D & D Brewery

The highlight of our vacation was the trip to Puhlapanzak, an impressive waterfall, on December 24. The national park had very few visitors on the special day. We arrived at around 11:30 AM only to find out that most of the staff would be leaving at around noon. We wanted to take the tour of the caves behind the waterfall. We were the only ones there for that, and we managed to secure the guide before he took off for the day. Carlos told us we were going to get wet. That didn’t surprise us. We had taken a similar tour at Niagara Falls. At Niagara, we had walked along these wooden, deck structures and walkways behind the cascading water and mist. They’d also given us rain ponchos and water shoes. Not so at the Honduran National Park at Puhlapanzak. We followed Carlos down a winding path to the bottom of the falls. He opened a padlocked gate where we entered onto the slippery rock path, buffeted by the mist from the falls. We followed our guide up and down the slippery ledges, holding on to a slimy rope to secure us from falling into the raging waters below. Then we came to a pool of water some ten yards from the falls. There was no more trail. At this point, Carlos asks, “Can you swim?,” as he dives into the pool. Coming up on the other side at a ledge just in front of the cascading waters, he smiles and beckons us to jump in. The waters rushed over this pool onto very jagged rocks twenty feet below. The current seemed quite strong. I first said, “No way, José,” or more precisely Carlos. But I didn’t want to waste the ten dollars I’d already spent on our friend Carlos. We both got into the pool, and with Carlos’ kind assistance we both swam over to the other side. I don’t think they let you do this at Niagara. On the other side, we ducked under the Falls and found ourselves in a small cave, a seven square foot room really. We were behind the falls. Not the most awesome thing I’ve ever experienced in nature, and yet it did bring smiles to our faces. Perhaps next year we’ll go back and try the zipline across the falls. I assume they give you a harness.

puhlapanzak2

Laura after our swim

Today, New Years Day, we’re not doing anything special. Last night we were in bed by ten. Still we were most definitely awake to see in the New Year. The firework bombings began with serious force before 11:00 PM and continued into the early hours. No one living in La Esperanza slept through that.

Image result for images Feliz Navidad y Prospero Ano Nuevo

So, we’ve now added to our Christmas / Holiday traditions. Candles, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, fireworks, tamales, late night feasts, and now, swimming under the falls at Puhlapanzak. It certainly will mark the day. And to think I was worried about what we would do spending Christmas and New Years here in Honduras.

To Be Thankful (In Honduras)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Well this is our fourth Thanksgiving here in Honduras. If you’ve followed this blog over the years you’ll know that Thanksgiving celebrations have sometimes failed to live up to expectations. With very particular family traditions, specific foods and tastes, and a sense of what the aura of Thanksgiving ought to be, it has been more than difficult here to replicate the holiday. Honduras simply does not understand what Thanksgiving is about. Laura and I have been on our particular ‘Holy Grail style’ to make Thanksgiving feel like what it is at home.

Thanksgiving 2013

Our first Thanksgiving in Nueva Esperanza occurred at a restaurant that had nothing of the accoutrements of a Thanksgiving feast. We did manage to prepare a very sorry looking Pumpkin Pie that became a token gesture to the late Fall traditional meal. Our second Thanksgiving was to be in Concepcion at our house. We were going to cook everything. Though we didn’t end up with a turkey, we planned on roasting a chicken. But the power went out and we carried our defrosted chicken to a Chinese restaurant and begged them to cook it for us. They did, but they fried it of course. Fried chicken and fried rice with cranberry sauce on the side carried us through our second Thanksgiving in Honduras. Last year we were invited to celebrate Thanksgiving with some American friends in La Esperanza. They did have a turkey purchased from a local farmer. They had it slaughtered and they cooked it in their oven. But the bird had obviously not been well-fed during its life with the Honduran farmer and his family. He was a bit tough and carried a great deal of grizzle. The side dishes and desserts were very good, and somewhat resembled traditional fare, but still came up short of my hope for the satisfaction of that unique dining experience.

Thanksgiving 2014

Thanksgiving feast ala Chinese style!

This year Laura and I were determined to get it right. We were challenged at every turn, but we maintained a strict focus that this Thanksgiving meal in our home in Camasca would become the envy of every American household. Our first task was food shopping in La Esperanza. We started out at the biggest grocery store in La Esperanza, often referred to as “El Americano,” because they cater to the small community of expats like ourselves. The prices there also reflect this. We were heartbroken when we couldn’t find a turkey. Perhaps the other Americans had already raided the supply. At the second biggest grocery store, we initially couldn’t find a turkey there either and our hearts were heavy. But we asked an assistant and she moved aside fifteen chickens in the freezer chest to uncover the sole fifteen pound Butterball. To us, this was gold. We couldn’t find Stove-Top stuffing, so we would work from scratch with bread croutons. We also struck out on the cranberry sauce. The pumpkin pie was to be replaced with a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. We carried all our produce back to Camasca on Monday.

Thanksgiving 2015

Turkey

We anxiously waited for Thursday to arrive. Kate would be arriving to join the celebration from Tegucigalpa. She’d be looking for cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie filling, and a pre-formed pie crust. With any luck we’d have everything we needed. Our guest list was a bit exotic. Jessica and Edman and their children, Tino, 9, and Penelope, 3, accepted the invitation. Edman is Honduran. Jessica has volunteered at our bilingual school. They would bring a lemon merengue pie, yams, corn bread, and egg-nog (or perhaps better said — those food items that can best approximate lemon merengue pie, yams, corn bread, and egg-nog in a country that doesn’t recognize these foods). Raul and Elena are young Spaniards who are volunteering here. They would enjoy their first American Thanksgiving. Also invited were the three young Hondurans working in our nutrition supplement program. It was to be an international Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving 2016

On Thanksgiving the electricity was on and we were psyched. We went to work in the morning because even though school is out until February, the people working on our nutrition program were taking blood samples of the benefactors of the nutritional supplement. We thought it particularly appropriate to celebrate a feast of plentiful harvest in the context of feeding children at risk for malnutrition. In the early afternoon I prepped the turkey with a garlic and wine glaze. The burners on the electric oven worked fine and I assumed the oven would work as well. But the electricity was low and didn’t generate enough power to actually turn on the oven. Foiled again, it seemed. But we also have a smaller gas stove for which we only use the burners on top. I didn’t think the oven actually worked, but Laura got it lit. The turkey barely fit in the compartment. The control for the oven on the gas stove does not have temperature settings. Instead of this, it simply reads “1,” “2,” “3,” “4,” and “5.” We guessed 4 and prayed the turkey would neither over or undercook. We didn’t have much gas, and, afraid we would run out, I continued to fiddle with the electric oven. Eventually I got it on, but the electricity was so low that it took forty-five minutes to pre-heat. The turkey went back into the electric oven. I read that the inside temperature of the turkey should be 185⁰, but obviously I didn’t have a meat thermometer. I laughed at my outrageous expectation. Then, oh-my-God-I-can’t-believe-this, I found a meat thermometer in a draw. I took it as a sign that everything would work out.

Kate arrived with the cranberry sauce, that we had to open with a knife because neither we nor our neighbors had a can opener, and the pie filling that we had to also open with a knife.  The guests arrived. We laid out the most elegant Thanksgiving repast that I’ve seen in at least four years, and maybe forever. It was incredible to savor those hot, rich, full flavors; reaching to the depths of American distinction and culture.

After dinner, we needed to open a bottle of wine. We had no corkscrew. Here’s what you don’t do. Get a long screw. Twist it into the cork with a ratchet bar. Grab it with a pair of pliers and yank. As I applied pressure upon the screw, it forced the screw and cork into the bottle. Everyone had a good laugh as we reveled in the extravagance of serving “Vino de Tornillo” (Screw Wine).

 

Well, I am thankful. I’m especially thankful for being in Honduras and enjoying this crazy journey. I am tremendously thankful for having made such great friends; people with whom I am comfortable and confident to spend my Thanksgiving. Though they don’t appear to be at first glance, they are truly family. I am thankful for my work, knowing that every day I put into action an intention to make the world a more just place in which to live. I also have to say that I am incredibly thankful for all of you. You have given Laura and me leave to follow our hearts. What a blessing this is.

 

Whenever we have asked, you have always supported us. Thank you all so very much.

On The Move Again

We’ve moved. We’d give you our forwarding address, but it wouldn’t do you any good. We live in Camasca now. Camasca is the quaintest of towns on the Frontera (the southern area of the department of Intibucá, bordering El Salvador). The streets are paved with cobblestone, as are all the towns in the Frontera, but here they seem much better kept. Camasca is European like, very noble with lots of character. The cool mountain air, as compared to the oppressive heat of Concepción just five miles north and 1500 feet down, gives the area an alpine feel. They’ve made a great effort at keeping their town clean, and unlike almost everywhere else in Honduras, there isn’t piles of plastic and paper strewn along roads and pathways. Even with the old country milieu, there are many modern conveniences that are simply not present in the other smaller towns. There are a decent number of restaurants, and one of them, really nice with free WiFi, is a favorite haunt. In Concepción we only had the pseudo- Chinese restaurant. There is a gym – yes, really, a gym – that is certainly the only one within 40 miles and a two-hour drive. There are two hardware stores and they actually have materials in them.

Front of the house

We live in a very big house. Actually, it is bigger than our last house in East Longmeadow sans a basement. There are two tenants, however, high school students. One is the daughter of the house’s owner whose parents live in Virginia, and the other is from Colomoncagua, here because this high school offers Information and Technology. Our privacy is a little challenged by adolescent socialization norms that are culturally universal. Although it is big and furnished (I finally have an actual sofa to stretch out on), there are a few drawbacks. In Concepción we had running water almost 24/7. Here it dripples out of our pipes every other day between 5 and 7 am, back to cold water bucket showers. When it is raining, most of the time now during the rainy season, we get water in the house, just not through the pipes. The terra cotta roof looks nice, but is not always the most efficient, and leaks are legion. The electricity is off here more frequently, the internet is less reliable, and we’re right on the town’s main street. On this last issue, Laura finally has a full porch that sits on the street side of the house, a bucket list cross off for her, but it’s literally only about ten feet from the street. I guess you just have to take the good with the bad.

“But why did we move?”, you ask. There are the emotional reasons and the practical reasons.  When we first came to the Frontera, committed to work with Shoulder to Shoulder, Camasca was the first town we visited and we were enamored. We asked about staying in Camasca, but the center for our work would be at the clinic in Concepción, and even though it is only about five miles away, commuting was not an option. Now, things have changed and Shoulder to Shoulder’s mission is expanding. Whereas we had been dedicating our time to operational needs of our two major clinics and the supervision of a few employees who did not fall under our government contract for providing health care, those parts of Shoulder to Shoulder are envisioned to become self-sustaining by way of our government contract. Other Shoulder to Shoulder missions, particularly education, service trips, and the development of new projects, are demanding more sustained attention as they grow. Our bilingual school is in Camasca, and thus Camasca has become our center for mission enhancement and development. So here we have landed.

When Laura and I first came to Honduras, we committed ourselves to a year, maybe two, of volunteer service with an agency focused on the enrichment and development of the underserved. Everywhere we have gone, from Montaña de Luz to Maestro en Casa to Shoulder to Shoulder, we have felt gratitude for the ability to offer ourselves according to empowerment of the underserved. Still, we had not considered that our time in Honduras would become a career path. Yet, here we are moving toward our third anniversary and it does not seem that we will be leaving anytime soon. It has not always been a picnic. We have had our share of disagreements and struggles. But we are content. We wake up every morning knowing that what we do during the course of the day is meaningfully discerned and supports the dignity of those we work with. What more could anyone want from life?

Laura in Dining Room (office)

It looks like we’re here for an indefinite period of time. The bilingual school will consume a great deal of our time. We are building something unique in all of Honduras. It’s very exciting. What we’re also about to be building is three additional classrooms and some modest office space. That is the most immediate hurdle. It will cost about $65,000 when all is said and done. We don’t have that on hand, of course, and we’ll be starting a pretty ambitious campaign. We haven’t asked too much from our friends and family, although those of you who have supported us have been extremely generous. Laura and I have talked about it and we’ve decided that the cause is very just and we will be asking you. Of course, if you want to get out in front of our pitch, we won’t complain.

We appreciate your support, your kind thoughts and wishes, and your prayers if you are so inclined. Whenever you’re in the area of Camasca, don’t feel as if you need an invitation to stop in and say hi.

 

Boy reading book

Just click the photo above to make a donation to the Campaign.

Just Below The Surface

I almost don’t want to write this. I feel really guilty. My last post was December 20, 2015. I’m sure that you all thought I was done. It isn’t that I haven’t been writing. It seems that every moment that has not been dedicated to other parts of our job, has been consumed by writing. It’s only that I haven’t been writing in this blog. Our job, and my writing of blogs, newsletters, and specific requests for volunteers and funds, has been consuming. Laura and I are watching “Suits” on Netflex (this is an incredible treat for us when we have electricity and internet). On the episode we watched last night, the grandmother of the main character is stood up by her grandson for a scheduled dinner. His only excuse was that his work was so consuming that he forgot what day it was. His grandmother looks at him, as only a grandmother can, and says with a wide, sincere smile, “Your work is important to you.” This, of course, is often a bad thing; to become so defined by your work as to dishonor relationships of love. Still, in this case, the grandmother understood that his work was defining for him in a positive way. Such is the case here in Honduras for Laura and me. We have the best jobs in the world. They pay us pretty much nothing. We are met with frustration almost every day. There is no water. There is no electricity. The car has broken down. Not to mention (I mean seriously don’t mention) scorpions. Ah, the good life. But, I get to meet people everyday who are committed to doing their part to make the world a better place. I get to go to bed every night knowing that I was part of trying to make the world a better place. In light of that, not having a lot of money, or not being able to cook dinner because the lights have gone out, seem like very small prices to pay for the sense of integrity I gain. So that is why I haven’t been as faithful to this blog as I would have liked.

dentalbrigadeselfie

Selfie Taking with the Dental Brigade Team

Some of the incredible things we’ve been involved in since January have been service trips. We’ve had eleven of them since the year began and seven in the month of February. We had a first time ever surgical brigade. We had over thirty persons come to Camasca on a single trip. I’ve seen amazing things. I’ve heard inspiring stories. I’ve met people with multiple PhD’s who have traveled the world. I’ve met young medical students who have so much energy and desire to change the world. I believe they will. I’ve also met simple people who have found some relief from tremendous suffering because they and we are with them. And at very particular moments I’ve been humbly grateful that I had something to offer.

atmariasgeneral

In Las Marias

In a very isolated village called Las Marias in the southernmost territory we cover, Laura and I visited one of the teams holding a field medical clinic. We mostly just take pictures or stay out of the way. But on this occasion, I did have opportunity to sit down with a grandmother who had brought her two grandchildren for care. The grandmother was not there for herself, but rather to try to get some medical and dental care for the children. She did mention, however, that she was having trouble sleeping and asked if she could have some sleep medication. When the team member went off to find her some sleep medication, I took the opportunity to sit down with her. Good social worker that I am, I asked her about her sleeping problems. Her insomnia had begun two months ago. I questioned, “Was there anything extraordinary that happened two months ago around the same time you began having difficulty sleeping?” “Why yes,” she said in an almost surprised way, “it was right after my son and daughter were killed.” I spent a good deal of time with her. I think I gave her a little insight into what was going on. I offered a few relaxation techniques. I found out who her supports were in her community. In the States I could have referred her for some counseling. But, here, well suffice it to say, we do the best that we can. In any case, I think I might have helped and I felt extremely grateful that I would be returning to my home where I may, or may not, have electricity and water.

Laura in roatan

Laura on vacation in Roatan

So this is our work.  Pretty awesome, right? Of course we don’t always work. We have friends and we go on vacation. We spent a few days in March in Roatan for a planning retreat with our leadership team and the President of our Board, Wayne, and his wife, Christina. We had a great time. Wayne had opportunity to do some scuba diving. Laura and I were not quite as adventurous. We did get to experience the undersea coral, however, taking an hour cruise in a glass bottom boat. What incredible beauty lies hidden only a few feet beneath what we can see from the surface. Laura managed to spot three sea turtles. It was a great treat to see something so extraordinary and for a few moments Laura and the rest of us rediscovered the joy of youth when all things are new.

seatutle

Well, I’ll go back to work now. I wonder what breath-taking beauty I will find today just below the surface.

Celebrations Familiar and Exotic

As a child, there was great importance associated with celebrations at this time of year. They seemed to mark a sense of profound security in life’s goodness.  The celebrations were special, extraordinary in how they knocked us out the routine, but also comforting in familiar symbology. The scent of pine from the Christmas tree, the glow of colored lights against the cold and the snow, the fantasies of elves and flying reindeer, and so many other icons touched upon the exotic and the familiar at the same time. As a child, I most certainly believed that these celebrations and their cultural expressions were timeless and immutable. I guess I assumed that the expressions were the celebrations. But now I know this isn’t so.  Living in Honduras, the familiarity of the symbols is lost, yet the extraordinary character remains. Now that these expressions are so different, what exactly are we celebrating?

Turkey

Obviously there is no such thing as Thanksgiving here because the pilgrims took a more northern route. There are a sufficient number of US citizens living in Honduras that the holiday does not go completely unnoticed. In Tegucigalpa at the US Ambassador’s compound, they have a big celebration.  But we are as far away from Tegucigalpa as from Plymouth Rock so that doesn’t help us any. It is kind of difficult that the special Thursday is just an ordinary Thursday here. Because of that, we decided against celebrating it on the actual day. With a group of folks from Colorado State University doing a cook stove study, we celebrated Thanksgiving on the following Sunday. We had turkey. The Colorado people picked him out of a rafter (incorrectly called a gobble or flock), and he was summarily sacrificed for our culinary pleasure. We did have all the right fixings, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pie, but nothing ever quite tastes like it tastes back home. It was a nice day. We sincerely gave thanks. But, there wasn’t any football, and the Frosty the Snowman Special did not air.

Fernanda Graduation

It is school graduation season here because the school year runs from February through November. This is probably a more reasonable schedule; no splitting calendar years.  Still, it seems weird to be celebrating academic milestones when the hint of Christmas is already in the air. Because the great majority of children don’t even get to high school, the graduation celebrations even at the youngest levels are filled with as much pomp and circumstance as you’d expect at a university commencement. Our bilingual school kindergarten graduation was such an experience. In full cap and gown, each graduate’s name is called. The graduate, the graduates’ parents and witnesses (godparents if you will), approach the honored guest table and sign their names into the official record book. Imagine how long it takes a five-year-old to sign his or her name. It is interminable. There are hundreds of these celebrations throughout the Frontier Region of Intibucá where we live. Unfortunately, for many of these children, it will be their only graduation. We are working to change that, at our bilingual school as well as at the others.

Then there was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Most of you probably don’t celebrate this. We, however, live in the town of Concepción, so we celebrate the town’s ‘fiestas patronales’ for the eight days leading up to and including December 8. This year it was initiated with a parade. Shoulder to Shoulder entered our ‘carroza’ (float). Of the six entrants, we happily took fourth place in the competition. Believe me, it was a relief not to come in last. We also entered a candidate to become the Queen of Concepción. Unlike our experience of the float, she was coronated Shoulder to Shoulder Queen of Concepción. The week long fair also featured a ‘Rueda Chicago’ (Ferris Wheel) as the major amusement ride. It towered over the town in the otherwise empty gravel field at the town’s entrance. As the ground is not at all level there, its four legs were propped up onto four tree stumps. It wobbled and rocked as it spun at a much more accelerated rate than most Ferris wheels. The policeman standing next to it assured us that it was completely safe. Honduran policeman are well known for their integrity, so we enthusiastically climbed on. Since you’re reading this, it all turned out well.

carroza

It seemed like Christmas got seriously started right after the fiestas patronales. In fact it started on December 17, the ‘aguinaldo,’ or the nine days before and including Christmas Day. It started quite brilliantly at 4:00 AM in our little town with extremely loud fireworks, followed by a tone-deaf band, followed by fireworks, followed by a band, etc., ad-infinitum. And here I have my most difficult time. What do fireworks have to do with Christmas? But here they are as ubiquitous as not having water or losing electricity. It just doesn’t put me in a holiday spirit. There are no carolers here, no chestnuts roasting on open fires, and no stockings hung by chimneys with care. So I’m left asking with Charlie Brown, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Well, we’re on a plane tomorrow morning bound for New Jersey. There, we’ll do an interview for a local television station in Princeton. We’ll then visit a friend in Brooklyn. On Christmas Eve, Laura’s daughter Emma will pick us up on her way from Norfolk, VA to Massachusetts. With a week of visiting friends and family, I’m sure we’ll get a good dose of New England holiday tradition. I think, in the end, we celebrate the beauty and wonder of life; our own and the abundance of it all around us. Whether it’s with hot chocolate or tamales, or for that matter with the crazy fruit cake, celebrations are about how good life is, and how good we are one to another.

paul and Laura

Merry Christmas