July 18, 2006

Ah! The luxuries of life!

Ah! Such luxuries: Water, electricity, internet connections, toilets that flush! Living in a third world country − Honduras is the poorest country in Central America and probably the entire hemisphere − makes a spoiled American appreciate the simple things.

We have scheduled and unscheduled power outages all the time − sometimes three or four times a day. We keep candles in almost every room and have an emergency 2-burner stove that runs with a propane tank.

The unreliability of our electric current (power surges and brownouts) at best shortens the life of equipment and appliances and at worst completely ruins them. We've lost two computers, two printers, and on separate occasions have burned up the power switch, power supply and hard drive of our 'good' computer. Our stereo, CD player, blender, and mixer have all met untimely deaths. Our 10-year old TV has been resurrected from the dead three times by a clever repairman.

We had an inverter that ran the refrigerator and a few lights and outlets when the power went out. I think the electrician installed the wiring or batteries wrong − he had never seen one before − and the batteries started weakening way too soon. Now they are dead and I don't know if or where they sell that type here. I really need to find out. I'm sure they would be considered a luxury item and will cost three times what they cost in the U.S., which was a lot! Yes, that was a luxury to have lights when the power went out!

This colonia has its own water well about 300 feet underground. The water is pumped from the well to a big tank and then gravity supplies the water to us. A good point about this is that our water is not contaminated with bacteria and who-knows-what else like the water in town. A bad point is that when the electricity goes out (sometimes a daily thing) we won't have water after the tank empties.

The other bad point is that our tank is old and rusty with peeling paint. After it empties, the force of the new water dislodges all that crud and we spend hours cleaning black water and chunks of rust out of our household system, toilet tanks, and sinks. Most of my clothes have been ruined because at one time or another we didn't completely flush our system before using the washer. Am I exaggerating? You be
the judge:

That's not coke! That's our agua potable (potable water) right out of the faucet! I saved this sample just for evidence, should I ever need it. Thank God it doesn't always look like this.

We keep a 55-gallon rain barrel for emergencies and we only drink and cook with purified bottled water so we always have two to four 5-gallon bottles on hand. The rain barrel is a
haphazard thing − a rusty old barrel left over from construction, placed on the side of the house where a valley of the roof fills it up. We only use this water for flushing the toilets and rinsing the food from dishes so that they can be held for washing later without attracting a zillion crazy ants into the kitchen. When we're really desperate, we use the water for what I call "bucket showers." That is where you lather yourself all up and rinse off by pouring plastic bowlfuls of water from a 5-gallon bucket. Sometimes that water is really cold. Brrr!

Once last summer we spent eight days without water. El Jefe took me to the river for a real bath and shampoo a couple of times. Most of the neighbors have underground or above ground cisterns. We really need to build one. Many of the houses I've visited keep a 5-gallon bucket of water in the bathroom to flush the toilet and a pila (big concrete wash tub) full of water outside for washing dishes and clothes. We are much better off here than town where the water is frequently rationed. There's no honor system voluntary water restrictions here. They simply
shut it off completely for as long as they want, sometimes as long as a week. Oddly, though, I haven't heard of this happening in the wealthier neighborhoods, only the poorer ones.

In the little town where el Jefe's mother lives, they have water for
only about an hour a day and often go days without it at all. I think it's because Dole Pineapple diverts their water for the pineapple fields, because it is that way even during the rainy season when the river is full; that's only my theory, though. In many of the smaller villages there is no running water; young children often don't go to school because it is their job to haul water from the river every day for their family's needs.

We didn't have an internet connection for four years! We applied for a phone line in February 2002 but there is no sign of ever getting one. "No hay" (There aren't any) is all we hear. I refused to bribe the clerk back in 2002 so we are still paying the price. In retrospect it was a foolish thing − probably 100 Lempiras (about $6 U.S.) would have gotten us the line, but back then I was on my high horse − It was the principal of the thing! Stand up for what's right!

In 2004 we received a personal (ha!) letter from our then president Ricardo Maduro, telling us about his program "Telefonos para Todos" (Telephones for Everyone). The telephone company is run by the government so, of course, it is inefficient, corrupt, and insolvent. Of course it's broke! Having the usual American entrepreneurial spirit and having been an 'A'
student in Economics 101, I realize that to be successful company, you can't turn away 95% of your customers with "No hay."

El Jefe's mother waited more than 10 years for a telephone line and I'm pretty sure that she did bribe. After she got it, the line only worked for about a week. Then she had to make several trips into town and wait in line for hours to beg on her knees for them to come to fix it. You have to keep paying the bill every month even if they don't repair it for months or years. If you don't pay, they won't fix it. If you do pay, they might − or then again, they might not. Only about 40% of Honduran households have a land-line phone. The other 60% have cell phones or nothing. Why is it this way, you ask? This is Honduras.

There are internet cafes on every block in town, kind of like Starbucks in the U.S. but I mostly used them only for banking and email (of which I received none!). I often think that anyone who has more than one computer and a phone line opens an internet cafe. They have kind of forgotten about the 'cafe' part. Internet cafes are usually crowded little places where you sit elbow to elbow using an old, slow computer, paying by the 15 or 30 minutes.

A year or two ago, internet by cable became available. Having been used to
paying $20 per month for access in Dallas, I thought $60 was too high. But that does include basic cable TV (which is only $13 per month), so eventually we bit the bullet and now we are connected to the world again! I could never do without it again, especially now that I'm a blogger. ;-)

As I sit here typing this into the computer, I look out my office window and see this:

So, even though life is hard here, I sometimes just sit back and smile when I think, "I have electricity today. I have water. I have internet. Life is good."

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