January 31, 2007

This is what I've been waiting for

Looking out the sala window onto the bougainvillea

It is the custom in La Ceiba to surround homes with a high concrete wall which can be very depressing to look out upon. Especially so when the wall hasn't been painted yet like ours. It is definitely reminiscent of a prison setting.

Our west wall is the highest because we had it built with the adjoining property owner and he wanted a tall wall. We were so happy that he was going to share the cost of the wall (very rare to be so lucky) that we went along with his wishes. Most of the rest of our muro (fence) is low with decorative open ironwork.

We don't have much space for planting on that side, so I designed a metal wall trellis for vines and had four of them made and installed on the west wall outside the windows so that we would have something pretty to look at.

I've tried starting some shade tolerant tropical vines from seeds for two of the windows but haven't had any luck with them germinating.

For the wall outside the desayunador (breakfast area) and sala familiar (family room), we bought two bougainvilleas. They are called Napoleons here in Honduras. I'm not sure why. Bougainvillea was named after a Frenchman Bougainville, not Napoleon.

This bougainvillea has pink and orange flowers at the same time. It wouldn't have been my first choice, but all the vivero (nursery) had at the time was this one and a washed out lavender one that wasn't very pretty. This vine is covered with deadly thorns. I don't know the name of the variety so if you do, please tell me.

I was afraid the vines wouldn't get enough light to bloom well since they are shaded by the house all morning and by the wall most of the afternoon, but they have finally taken off and have started blooming. It's such a joy to look out the window and see the flowers!

This is the bed below and if you look closely, you can see the Ramón and Conchita out doing their chicken work.

January 30, 2007

Angry sky at sundown

Picture taken standing in my breakfast area window at sundown.

January 29, 2007

Cultural differences: Communication

One day after lunch, when I was sitting on the terraza with our housekeeper (yes, it was long ago), our handyman/yardman Carlos (yes, it was the good old days), and El Jefe, I called a Honduran-American friend. The conversation went like this:
LG: Hi E! It's (La Gringa). Do you want to come over for dinner on Friday night?

E: Sure, what are you having?

LG: You are in luck! We're having filet mignon and homemade ice cream for dessert.

E: Great! What time?

LG: About 7 p.m.

E: Okay, sounds good. I'll bring a bottle of wine.

LG: Okay! We'll see you then. Bye!

E: Bye!
I hung up, looked at my phone and it said 56 seconds. Cheque! Menos de un minuto. (Check! Under a minute.) In Honduras, cheque means okay, I understand, I agree, or accomplished as in checked off the list.

I looked up to see three astonished faces. I burst out laughing. I knew exactly what they were thinking. How could I have possibly called, greeted, given information, confirmed the time, and said goodbye in less than one minute, they wondered?

A book that I have, The Hispanic Way, shows the following diagram of speech patterns among the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking. I get a chuckle every time I see it because it is so true!

The path of communication, English and Spanish

Actually, if I were to draw the diagram, I would put a few more angles, some curves, and one or two loops back to the beginning.

While opening and closing pleasantries are nice (after all, I'm from Texas where some of the friendliest people in the world live), there is something to be said for clarity as well. Sometimes I leave a conversation not knowing if I have received an answer or not. Often I am quite sure that I have received two conflicting answers.

The author of the book provides this real life quote as "the ultimate in exaggeration, but still illustrative of the Hispanic way of conveying information":

"Suppose you see them, tell them I am here, but if not, not; you may not actually see them, but talk to them on the telephone perhaps, or send a message by someone else and if not on Wednesday, well then on Tuesday or Monday, if you have the car you could run over and choose your day and say you saw me, you met me on the station, and I said, if you had some means of sending them a message or you saw them, that I might come over, on Friday, say, or Saturday at the end of the week, say Sunday. Or not. If I come there I come, but if not, we shall see, so that supposing you see them . . . ."

This was to say, "If you go over to see them on Wednesday tell them I have arrived and will come at the end of the week."
Nowhere is the difference more apparent than the Honduran television call in shows. The callers often ramble on for so long the the host, guests, and probably even the caller have completely forgotten what the caller's question was by the time he finishes his monologue.

Oh, by the way, the entire Hispanic way of speaking is out the window when someone is calling you from their cellphone! No pleasantries or chitchat here. The conversation is right down to the point because of the high cost of cellphone calls. In fact, it's not rare to hear "I don't have minutes, call me back," at which point (on your minutes) they then revert to the Hispanic way and have all the time in the world to chitchat.


Cultural differences

Thanks to my brilliant readers and commenters, I have received lots of ideas for new articles about cultural differences between English speakers (primarily North American) and Spanish speakers (primarily Honduran).

Several of La Gringa readers come from multicultural households, like I do, and many of the readers are expatriates living in Central American countries. What a wealth of information we have here.

Some cultural differences are amusing, some annoying, and some are considered just downright rude to the other culture. However you feel about them, if you are living in another culture, you have to get used to them and do your best to adapt.

However, I believe that just because something is "the way things are done" doesn't necessarily mean that it is right or the best way. Corruption is an example. Corruption is a very real part of the culture in Central America. It is generally accepted and even laughed about (I guess you have to laugh at things you can't change), but it is a very bad thing for the countries and people involved. Similarly, the brusque manner of North American communication gets the job done but there is something to be said for "catching more bees with a little honey," too.

In other words, I think we can all learn a little bit from each other.

I have a few articles drafted and would welcome any suggestions readers (both Hispanic and not) have for discussions of other cultural differences. So, don't be shy. Tell La Gringa what you know, or what you want to know.

January 28, 2007

We have a winner!

We have a winner to La Gringa's What is it? contest announced on Wednesday.

Just for fun, I'll show you another view of the contest photo item and let you think about it for a minute:

Any new ideas?

That's okay. I'll wait while you think about it . . . .

. . . .

. . . .

Here's are two pictures from today, five days after the contest picture:

The answer is new growth unfurling on a sago palm (common name). Cycas revoluta is the Latin name and the species that I think this one is, also called Japanese sago palm.

Taaa Daaaah! And the winner is Annie in Austin! Technically the first part of Annie's answer was a question, but I'll accept it. ;-D

Is this some Honduran variety of Cycad? The photo resembles Sago palms when they are unfurling.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

I don't know if it is a Honduran variety, so I wasn't looking for the exact species, just 'new' or 'unfurling' growth on a Sago or Cycad and you got it!

Congratulations, Annie! Now I'm going to have to go shopping to see what I can find for you. Send me an email, please, with your address.

The most interesting thing about Cycads is that they are among the oldest plants in the world and can be traced back to prehistoric times − they were here with the dinosaurs. Even though they look similar to a palm, they are not related to palms but are actually related to pines.

Although Cycads are always described as very slow growing, this burst of growth includes 45 new fronds! Here are a couple of close ups of the new leaf growth unfurling.

Blogger -- Aarghhhh!

I have an article ready to post regarding Wednesday's contest. I have been trying to upload some photos since yesterday and Blogger won't let me!!!! Not even if I try one at a time.

Aaaarghhhhh! I hate am annoyed by Blogger.

I'll try again this evening. I have things I HAVE to do today or El Jefe may go back to his mother and my pets may run away to look for a better home!

P.S. Warning for those of you who receive La Gringa by email from Feedburner: Later on I'm going to recategorize some posts so they are all going to be spit out in the newsletter as new posts. Please forgive my obsessive-compulsive nature but I have a new category and I absolutely must categorize these articles properly. I've tried not to for two days. I can't stand it. They must be categorized correctly.

January 27, 2007

A handy tool or a deadly weapon?

What did they use those pinkie nails for anyway?

There is something I see here in Honduras that has been baffling me. I see men, young and old, farmers and city boys, black and brown, respectable and maybe not so, who have this long pinkie fingernail. I mean really long.

What is that about? Is it for picking? Most really don't appear the type who would be using it for snorting coke. Our favorite water man quit the business and his new replacement has one. That's what brought it back to my mind. What on earth is it for?

(Later....) Not wanting to leave the article open-ended like that, I went to ask El Jefe. He started laughing before I even finished with the question. His first guess was for picking the nose and cleaning the ears. Eeeeeewwwww! Tell me it's not so!

His second guess was for scooping coke (the powdered kind, not the liquid), but I nixed that based on the people I've seen with it. His third guess was for something sexual. That also seems doubtful to me as I'm having a hard time imagining doing anything with a pinkie nail that wouldn't hurt or that couldn't be done better with another "tool."

I had another thought, maybe crazy, but I wondered if it could be some sort of status symbol, meaning that if you have a long pinkie nail it signifies that you don't do manual labor, the same way that women in many cultures value white or lighter skin as a sign of being upper class.

(Much later....) So, still unsatisfied, I went to my old friend Google who knows all. Sure enough: 83,200 results for "long pinkie nail." Not only that, but the first one covered all the bases.

The straight dope tells us that our first guess was probably right. In fact all of our guesses are possibilities. The few that we didn't guess probably wouldn't apply to the people I've seen:
Opening envelopes − not in Honduras, no mail.
Playing guitar − I doubt it, there can't be that many guitar players here.
Sign of a pimp − I don't think so.
Opening shrink wrap − No shrink wrap on the water bottles.
Dangerous weapon − A possibility I suppose.
I am so going to be checking out fingernails before I ever shake hands with anyone again!

January 26, 2007

Another cultural difference

I just had an interesting conversation with El Jefe that pointed out another cultural difference. (Yes, we have many. It's an ongoing process working on that!) He was saying that he really didn't like something a friend had said.

The friend said, "I hate people who ...." and the rest is not important. Let's just substitute, "who park their car in the street" or something silly like that.

El Jefe's point was that the friend should have said, "I hate WHEN people ...." I was surprised at his strong reaction. I'm often guilty of doing the same thing − saying I hate green cars or warm Coke or fat men who don't wear shirts, when I really mean something much less strong than 'hate.'

An online dictionary gives the following (partial) definition:
–verb (used with object)
1. to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest: to hate the enemy; to hate bigotry.
2. to be unwilling; dislike: I hate to do it.
I think in everyday English, the word has become diluted, at least by some of us. When I use the word 'hate,' I'm usually thinking of 'dislike or feel aversion for' without the 'intensely, passionately, and extreme' modifiers. I never thought for a minute that the friend was saying that he hated anyone, but El Jefe took offense.

Of course, I immediately thought back to the million times I've said I hate something or "someone who...." and started wondering what he thought. One more thing to work on!

January 25, 2007

Grocery store secret police

I promised I'd tell you about this. Grocery stores and other medium to large stores will usually have an armed guard or two at the entrance, but what I didn't know at first was that some of them also have 'secret police' inside dressed like customers.

Their job is to watch out for shoplifters or people who might eat something in the store or drink a coke and then leave the can and not pay for it.
Well, they aren't really secret police. They are more like undercover guards, but I think of them as secret police.

They just sort of hang around the store trying to watch people without looking too suspicious. It just so happened that El Jefe knew a couple of people who had these jobs − that's how I found out about it.

Once I noticed a man who seemed to be at the end of every aisle I went down. He didn't have a cart or a basket, and he was beginning to make me nervous. When El Jefe came to pick me up, I mentioned it and pointed the man out. El Jefe said, "Oh, he's the secret guard. I know him."

I don't think I look like a shoplifter, but apparently I have a very suspicious manner of shopping, because I'm always noticing guards following me or the same person peering down every aisle that I walk down. I'm one of those people who reads labels, compares prices, checks expiration dates, and, just the fact that so many of the products are new and different to me, I spend a lot of time looking.

It is a little disconcerting, though. It makes me feel that I should walk around with my hands up in the air to show I'm not stealing anything. I'll have to say that it's just a little insulting, too. But having your integrity insulted in Honduras is something you just have to get used to, because many businesses do it in some form or fashion.

January 24, 2007

Carmen the chicken eats from a spoon

Carmen eating from a spoon

I have been feeding Carmen by hand for a week. One time I made the mash too soupy for me to pick it up and put in her mouth so I tried holding the spoon under her beak and she started eating. Hooray for that! It is very hard to feed a chicken who doesn't want to eat.

Carmen is definitely improving. She looks fat in the video but it's just the way she is standing and holding her tail down. She's really still only feathers and bones. She walks around a little, although shakily, and is eating a lot now.

The video is sloppy − I was trying to feed her, take the video, and keep her from falling off the table all at the same time.

It's a contest!

What is it?

The first person to guess right will win a prize. I'll send you something Honduran. It won't be as big as a Honduran mahogany dining room set or as small as a Honduran plastic bag (even though they are great), but I'll try to find something the winner would like.

Rules: The answer must be exact! No partial answers. One guess only, please.

If no one guesses correctly by Sunday, I'll post another picture so you can try again.

January 23, 2007

Hummingbird on a Heliconia

Hummingbird on Heliconia latispatha,

We see so many hummingbirds this time of year but catching them with the camera is difficult. El Jefe was able to take this photo a few weeks ago with the old camera. I love the colors of this iridescent jewel-colored one in the photo.

One once buzzed around my head and even though the camera was in my hand, I couldn't get it turned on fast enough. They often hover around the Etlingera Elatior right outside my estudio (studio) window for a minute or more, but when I open the screen to get a shot, they fly away.

Etlingera elatior, (Bastón de la Reina) a favorite of hummingbirds

This year I've seen two unusual types
that I haven't seen before around the Etlingera. Both had curved beaks. One had a short curved beak and was as small as my thumb. The other had a very long arched beak and was quite a bit larger. They were both more brownish.

I won't hazard a guess to try to identify the one in the top picture. A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America lists 65 hummingbirds, many of which are residents of this area. Some hummingbirds hang their tiny cone-shaped nests under the tips of Heliconia or banana leaves.

Other hummingbirds migrate north for the summer. It's amazing to think that these tiny birds fly hundreds or thousands of miles each year. The hummingbird that you see in your backyard may have been feasting on my Heliconia during the winter!

Japanese spam again

My blog is being inundated by Japanese Chinese spam comments today. I had to turn on the darn captchas for commenters, which I hate. I'll turn them back off in a day or two and see what happens.

My email is full of Japanese spam as well. It has been coming for months now. La Gringa receives about 50 Japanese spam for each English spam.

During the month of December, La Gringa received 45 spam messages. It started out slow with notification that I had won the Euromillion lottery on the 6th. The next day, I received a Portugese and a Japanese spam. No more spam for a full nine days and then .... BAM! I received 41 spam messages, all in Japanese, and one message whose subject was "Hey bro wats up" and the first line was "do you know I make a couple hundred dollars doing online ....." I did get a chuckle from the "Hey bro" part.

So, out of 45 spam, I can only read two of them (but I didn't). What is going on with that? Do they think that I will be so curious that I will click on a link, or do they think I read Japanese?

I assume that it is the result of the (very funny) article I wrote about spam a few months ago. Part of the article was in Japanese.
(That was the only article I felt really confident about applying the label 'humor.' Read it if you haven't.)

I know spammers don't target their audience, but doesn't it seem that they would at least try to send it someone who can read it?

January 21, 2007

Cost of living in La Ceiba

Residencial Las Colinas, La Ceiba, HondurasHouses in Residencíal Las Colinas - expensive

I'm probably not going to live up to that title. For those who are interested, I thought I would just give you some idea of what it costs to live here in La Ceiba.

Just keep in mind that your absolute needs are probably different from mine. If I asked one person how much it costs to live in Dallas, Texas, he might tell me $2,000 per month. If I ask another, he might tell me $20,000 per month.

clay house, HondurasClay house on the highway - inexpensive

All prices are translated from lempiras to U.S. dollars, except internet and cell phone which are billed in U.S. dollars.


Electric - Our electric bill runs about $95 per month and we rarely use the air conditioning. We do have an electric stove and electric dryer because those rusty propane tanks scare the dickens out of me.

Gas - Piped in natural gas service is not available. We haven't refilled our propane tank lately, but it probably costs somewhere around $11-13.

Water - This depends on which colonia (neighborhood) you live in but it is generally very low, a set rate of $2 - $15 per month. The quality of the water is correspondingly low, too. Availability of water is often limited in many colonias. Purified bottled water costs $1.05 to $1.25 per 5 gallon bottle.

Telephone - I don't know. It's relatively cheap, but hard to get unless your house already has a line. The Hondutel website is horrific and tells me nothing. Almost every "frequently" asked question (every question is added to the FAQ) is answered by saying "call us to find out" or "come into the office to find out." Other telephone companies are now offering service in some areas.

Cell phone - Honduras has the highest cell phone rates in Central America. A $45/month plan will give you about 220 minutes. Most plans run around $.20-25 per minute. There is a surcharge for calling landline phones or cell phones from another company. On average, El Jefe spends about $45 per month. During our house construction, it was more like $75. Cost of a cell phone ranges from about $25 to about $500. Prepaid cell cards in several denominations are available and are often most economical for those whose usage varies significantly from month to month. Both companies offer specials about once a month with bonus minutes for the cards.

Cable/Internet - Monthly cable television costs about $16. It includes around 90 channels, about 40% are English-language, including a few movie channels. Cable plus internet costs $60 per month. I don't know what the speeds are. It's not too bad but it's not super speedy either. There is a lower speed available for $30/month and a higher speed for $120/month. Cable is not available in all areas. Other internet options are available, some are very expensive.


Renting - Apartments are relatively inexpensive. To give you some idea, a few years ago we rented a 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath apartment with two terrazas (terraces) and maid's quarters with bath for $265 per month. Recently, a friend rented a fully furnished (down to towels and forks) efficiency apartment for $330 per month, utilities (but no phone) included. Average unfurnished houses can be rented for $300-$500 per month on up.

Buying - Mortgage interest rates are 10-12%. That's way down from 20-24% not too long ago. You might be able to find a small house for around $60,000, you could spend $300,000 and get a mansion, or anything in between. Whatever you want, cash is the way to go. And of course, location will make a big difference in price.

Household help - If you can find someone who wants to work (BIG IF), you can hire a live-in maid for about $110 per month, plus room and board. A daily maid costs about the same. I haven't found any interest in part-time maids. A full time gardener/handyman type person might be found for about $165-$250 per month. A once a week gardener might work for $12-$25 per day, depending upon if he has a helper and what tools he provides. We don't have any help right now, so I might not be current on these prices. Wages have gone up in La Ceiba due to all the construction going on. These prices are just to give you an idea − some people pay more, some pay less.

Groceries - If you eat like the locals (rice, beans, tortillas, a little meat, eggs), groceries will be a fraction of what you used to pay. A wild guess is about $250 per month for a couple. If you can't live without your American brand products, you'll pay a lot more, but probably still much less than you are used to over all. American cleaning products seem very high priced to me, but I'm 5 years removed from grocery shopping in the U.S., so maybe I'm out of touch.

Restaurants - In the local comedores (small restaurants), you can eat for around $2-$4. In an average restaurant you'll pay $5-$10 for a meal. In the nicest restaurants, you might pay $10-$25, but the high end would be for shrimp or lobster. Cocktails run around $2-2.50, and a local beer usually costs around 75 cents.


Gasoline - Even after last week's huge decrease, gasoline still costs around $3.00 per gallon with no sign that it will ever be reduced significantly. Honduras typically has the highest gas prices in Central America. The government has recently taken charge of importing fuel for the country and I don't envision this as being a good thing for consumers.

Taxi - In town, daytime 80 cents, nighttime $1.06. Taxi to our house from downtown $3-$4.

Buses - From 10 miles outside of town into town only costs about 60 cents and an in-town trip runs about 25 cents.

I hope that helps to give you some idea of what it costs to live in La Ceiba, Honduras. Keep in mind that this is just one person's experience and the cost of living seems to be going up monthly.

Where is your rock?

The first time a maid asked me that, I thought that piedra (rock) must be a colloquialism for something else. "Rock ... rock ... rock?" I thought to myself. "What could that stand for? She's in the kitchen, she's cooking. It must be a name for some kind of kitchen tool."

I finally had to say that I was sorry, I didn't understand, and I went to ask El Jefe. It turns out that rock means rock. So I went outside and found a nice flat rock that fit my hand comfortably. I washed it up and rinsed it well. Here's my rock!

It turns out that a rock is a handy kitchen tool. It can be used for tenderizing meat or caracol (conch), flattening chicken breasts, grinding spices, smashing garlic, giving a tap on the lid of a hard-to-open jar, and probably other things I haven't thought of yet. Because of the slight curve, it doesn't take much effort to rock it back and forth to crush things.

You could go out and buy $50 or so of kitchen gadgets to do those things. In fact, you could get this meat tenderizer, suggested retail $220, or you could get yourself a nice rock.

Tenderizer, $220, Williams-Sonoma . . . . . . . . Rock, free

I really like it. I keep it right between my KitchenAid mixer and my Cuisinart food processor.

January 19, 2007

Ramón is the Man

Weighing in at about 18 ounces (510 grams), Ramón somehow has the idea that he's the boss of everyone.


This is my first video with my new camera and I think it's the best yet. Enjoy!

P.S. In the process of making this movie, I played the video about 20 times. Each time Ramón heard himself crowing on the video, he answered by crowing! El Jefe can't decide if he wants to strangle Ramón or me.

Sickly chicky update

This is Carmen. Isn't that just the sweetest little chicky face you've ever seen?

Some kind-hearted person asked for an update on her. I haven't written anything because there hasn't been much new to say. She still doesn't want to eat or drink but I manage to get a little down her a few times a day. She only weighs 14 oz. (400 gr.) and Conchita is at least 18 oz. (510 gr.).

I dip her beak into the electrolyte water about 10 times a day. She'll usually drink the first time or two but after that she just flings the water all over me. I'm still giving her the antibiotic.

We are keeping her inside in a cardboard box. In the mornings we can hear her scratching around a little but mostly she just stays very still. I'm starting to wonder if she has a broken bone. There isn't anything visible that I can see nor are there any symptoms of diseases.

I feel a little more hopeful in that she's keeping her eyes open more often now. Tonight even though she struggled with me, she did eat quite a bit more than usual.

January 18, 2007

Our first guayaba

Guayaba fruit, Psidium guajava Linn.

We had our first guayaba (guava) the other day. It wasn't what I expected but it was good, sweet and juicy. It measured about 5 inches (13 cm.). Our neighbor gave us the tree about three years ago and it spent the first year in a gallon pot until our yard was ready for planting.

At that time our neighbor also gave us a guayaba from his tree. It was hard and white inside with a taste somewhat like a tangy apple. The seeds were dangerously hard. They could easily break a tooth. That's why this one wasn't what I expected.

Like mangos, guayabas can be eaten unripe. Here in Honduras, that is usually with vinegar, salt, and pepper. Since we didn't even know we had this guayaba until it fell off the tree, we ate this one ripe. It was soft and pink inside, sweet, and tasted . . . . well, tropical. We ate the skin and the seeds, which in the ripe fruit, were soft and hardly noticeable, kind of like tomato seeds.

Guayaba, Latin name Psidium guajava Linn., is native to the American tropics. In Honduras, it is grown primarily in the home garden as problems with white fly and other insects limit its usefulness on a commercial scale. My neighbor tightly covers his fruit individually with plastic to prevent an infestation.

This is a picture of the tree. It looks more like a bush right now because it needs pruning. It's not a bad size for a tree in the ground only two years − about 8 feet tall (2.4 m.). It was only about 18 inches (46 cm.) when we planted it.

For the history of guavas, described by the author as one of the most gregarious fruit trees, and everything else you ever wanted to know, see Fruits of Warm Climates.

January 17, 2007

It's a black water day in the neighborhood


You are probably wondering what the heck I mean by that. It's not a euphemism or Honduran or Texan lingo. What I mean is that we have black water coming out of our faucets and filling our toilets. Literally, black water. It looks like coffee that has been left on the burner for 16 hours or like used motor oil when it hasn't been changed for 6 months.

This is not trick photography!

Somewhere, somehow, sometime this morning, the water was turned off in the neighborhood. When the water recommenced, the force of the water rushing through the empty pipes or the neighborhood tank dislodged all the black goo that lines the tank and pipes and pushed it all into our household system.

I found out in the second worst possible way. I was still half asleep, washing my face with my eyes closed. When I opened them, I discovered the black water pouring out of the faucet. That is what I had been washing my face with.

What is the worst possible way? Discover it after you've been brushing your teeth. Eeeek!

Since this happens on average once a month − but sometimes as frequently as twice a day − we have a regular procedure for cleaning out the household water system. It involves wasting hundreds of gallons of water, of which I'm not proud, but what else can you do? You can't use this water for anything. We do drain quite a bit outside on the lawn, but it's still a waste because the lawn doesn't need watering.

We disconnect the water filter* outside and let the water run until it is clear. Then we run some of the outside faucets hoping to drain as much dirty water as possible outside the house.

Then, one by one, we remove the strainers from the all the faucets in the house and run them until the water runs clear, trying carefully not to flush any toilets in the meantime. This has to be done one or two faucets at a time because otherwise there isn't enough pressure to clean out the lines.

If someone has flushed a toilet, it fills up with black water and the only way to remove all of the black water from the toilet tank is to turn off the cutoff valve, drain the tank, and manually clean it out.
(Thank me, I'm sparing you a picture of the toilet.) If anyone has mistakenly turned on the hot water, then we have to drain the hot water heater, too.

Then, of course, every sink, shower, tub, and toilet have to be cleaned because they are covered with oily black stains. Usually I run a couple of rinse cycles on the washer as well, just in case there is any black water inside those lines. Most of my clothes have already been ruined.

What a fun day for everyone in our neighborhood. And I'll bet that every single household has a maid to clean it for them, except me!

*The water filter is a joke. We've had it on 'by-pass' since the first month. Within 24 hours, the filter is completely black or red with sand. It's completely useless.
At first I thought I could just rinse out the filter since I'm not really trying to purify the water, just trying to keep out the sand and dirt. I soon discovered that the filter needed to be rinsed for about 30 minutes each and every day, and even then, it's impossible to rinse all the junk out of the 1000-layer filter.

One neighbor has a series of four water filters and he says that their cistern still fills up with dirty water. The only reason we haven't removed the filter completely is that we can use it to turn off the water to the house and pump the dirty water onto the lawn, IF we know in advance that the water has been turned off. The problem is that usually we find out only after turning on an inside faucet which sucks the dirty water into the entire household system.

Blah, blah, blah. Enough talking. It's time to get to work. Whaaahh!

Why are oranges orange?

Many of us are used to seeing those lovely bright orange oranges in the grocery stores. Here in Honduras and in other tropical areas, the oranges and lemons are usually green. In fact, by the time they start showing a little color, they are often past their prime.

Why is that?

Oranges are actually a sub-tropical tree that was introduced to the American tropics around 1500 by Christopher Columbus among others. The fruit does not continue to ripen after picking so it must be left on the tree until ripe. The natural orange color of Citrus sinensis (sweet orange) is brought on by cooler temperatures. Since most eating oranges in the US are grown in Florida or California, they receive a bit more cool weather than they get here in Honduras.

So if you are growing oranges in cooler climates, the peel will probably become orange, if you are growing them in the tropics, most varieties will stay green when ripe.

It's not only temperature, though. All sorts of dastardly things are done to make oranges orange for the consumer, including gassing them with ethylene gas, washing with detergent, coating with wax, and yes, even coloring them with dye.

Orange oranges can also turn green again, in a natural process called
regreening. It can happen when oranges are left on the tree while the tree is blooming.

Whether it is orange or green, a ripe orange tastes the same.

Interesting tidbit: The English word 'orange' means both the citrus fruit and the color. The Spanish word 'naranja' also means both the fruit and the color, even though in much of the Spanish-speaking world, oranges are green.

For everything you ever wanted to know about oranges, see Fruits of Warm Climates, an excellent online book from Purdue University.

January 16, 2007

Bad dogs

Clockwise, Chloe, Zoe, and Joey

Don't let that picture fool you. These are some very bad dogs.

Yesterday I made some black-eyed pea soup* and corn bread. Not the quick corn bread, but a yeast bread corn bread which takes almost four hours to make. I made three mini-loaves from the recipe. One was for dinner and the other two were going into the freezer.

Today we had the soup again for lunch. Since we only had a little bread left over from last night, I went to the freezer to pull out another mini loaf. No corn bread in the freezer. "What a minute," I think to myself. "I don't remember putting those other two loaves in the freezer."

I remembered leaving them resting on a towel to cool before I put them away. I looked everywhere. I went outside to ask El Jefe if he had put the bread away last night. Nope, never saw it.

Chloe the Rotten Rottweiler must have pulled the loaves down for a snack. I checked the floor and not a crumb was to be seen, so apparently they like corn bread with jalapeños or they just wanted to remove all traces of evidence of the crime.

I should be thankful that they didn't also eat the two dozen Italian rolls I made yesterday, too.

Bad, bad dogs.

*There is a Texas superstition that if you eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day, you will have good luck all year. So what the heck! It's worth a try, right? Although I'm not that crazy about black-eyed peas, I like them about a once a year just for a change.

Anyway, I forgot to cook them on New Year's day.

January 15, 2007

Ugly Betty wins

America Ferrera

America Ferrera, Honduran-American star of the TV show Ugly Betty, won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Comedy series tonight.

Although she was born and raised in California, America is putting Honduras on the map.

This is her TV character, Betty

A sickly chicky


Both Conchita and Carmen have been acting mopey and not eating much since they went broody. I take them out of their respective nesting areas several times a day and try to feed them a little. They have both stopped laying eggs.

I began to notice that Carmen would just sort of lay wherever I put her and she wasn't eating at all that I could see. Saturday, I left her by the food and a little later noticed she was still where I left her, but not eating.

I went to get her and saw that fire ants were carrying the food away. The ants were on Carmen, too, and she wasn't even trying to get away. Then I became really worried! If you don't know about fire ants, consider yourself lucky. They give a painful sting and can even kill if an animal gets enough stings.

Carmen has had another problem for a few days. She has been holding one eye closed most of the time. I've looked and looked and I can't see anything wrong with her eye. It's not swollen, it's not red, there is no discharge, I can't see anything in it, and the inner eyelid looks fine, too.

So, being as worried as I am, this morning El Jefe took her to the
agropecuaria (similar to a feed store). The "veterinarian" sold him an antibiotic, an anti-parasite medicine for all the chicks, and a vitamin-electrolyte powder that is mixed with water. He also said to separate her from the others.

I put veterinarian in quotes because I'm not really sure of the qualifications of the people called veterinarians in these stores. I know from prior research we've been given some bad, and possibly even dangerous information, about products for our dogs.

I spent a lot of time researching chicken illnesses on the internet this weekend, and I saw that the vitamin-electrolyte powder is often recommended for chickens who aren't eating and/or are sick. So I mixed some of that up and she is drinking quite a bit, but only when I give it to her.

I looked up the anti-parasite pill on the internet and found that it should not be given to a sick bird and that based on their size, our birds should be getting somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 tablet, not the entire tablet like the man told us.

In the corner of the box is a 1 1/2 by 3 1/4 inch tuna can (3.8 x 8.3 cm.)
to give you an idea of her size.

I've just started looking up the antibiotic Enrofloxacin. I've found that the dosage he suggested is wrong here, too. One tablet is for a 5-6 pound bird. Ours are closer to one pound. I really wanted to avoid using antibiotics, but ....

I don't know many people who raise chickens here. Many people seem to have the attitude that chickens get sick and then they die, and I guess that is often true.

(Later ....) It's been a busy day and I didn't get a chance to finish this article. I've been giving Carmen the electrolyte water every hour or so in between making soup and homemade bread (and washing my hands 100 times). I even got her to eat a tiny bit of banana (their favorite food) but nothing else.

Click to enlarge to see how pretty her feathers are.

She is acting a little less morose and even opening her eye occasionally. She must have been really dehydrated. I smashed 1/4 of the antibiotic tablet in a drop of water and administered it by squeezing a syringe with no needle into her mouth.

We'll see how it goes.

January 13, 2007

More Americanization of Honduras

I've written a lot about plastic bags in Honduras. I have never seen so many plastic bags anywhere in all my life.

While plastic bags do take up less space in the landfill than most other kinds of containers, a whole lot of them end up in the streets, sewers, rivers and ocean instead, often with a load of trash inside.

Some of the plastic bags used for food or drinks are probably not 'food-safe' bags. I have no way of knowing for sure, but some of them have a very strong chemical odor which permeates the food if it is left in the bag too long.

Plastic bags are so overused. Sometimes when unpacking my groceries, I find items in their own separate bags, which are together inside another bag, which is combined with other bags inside a big bag! A big trip to the grocery store can easily result in a month's supply of assorted size trash can liners. I can't buy an orange without someone insisting that it has to be in a plastic bag.

I used to take my canvas shopping bags with me but they caused so much suspicion (maybe she's a shoplifter), confusion (why doesn't she want free plastic bags? −or− am I allowed to give her the carton of milk without a bag?) and explanation (I'm trying to save the environment!) that I've almost given that up. Plus, it kept the grocery store secret police (more on this in another article) busy peering at me from around corners when I'm sure there were others more deserving of their attention.

Another problem with so much plastic is that many, many people burn their trash, as do some of the small town and unofficial dumps. Breathing the air from burning plastic can result in serious health problems, especially for children.

best bags All that said, I give credit where credit is due and I have to say that Honduran grocery store bags are the best, sturdiest, non-leaking plastic bags I've ever seen. They beat any Hefty Husky Super-Strong Brawny Tuffy Heavy-Duty bags any day. You can reuse them as trash bags or trash can liners with no fear of leaking. You can reuse them for carrying or storing things practically forever they never rip or tear.

Now, back to the point about Americanization

All that good part is changing now. Bit by bit, I see our sturdy Honduran trash bags being replaced by the flimsy, leaky U.S. style with handles.

worst bags Some of the import stores recycle their flimsy WalMart shopping bags when bagging their customers' purchases. Most of the multi-national gas station stores use tiny, flimsy, unreliable bags − you know the kind: the ones in which the handles tear off or the bottom falls out before you even get to the car.

(I have done my share of grocery shopping at the gas stations, believe it or not! They used to be the most likely place to find frozen bagels, Philadelphia cream cheese, water-packed white tuna, half-way decent ice cream, and English-language magazines.)

bad bags The new WalMart-owned Paiz grocery has come to town and they use the flimsy, handled plastic bags that are so common in the U.S. The grocery packers tie the bags in knots so people can't steal anything on the way out. By the time I get home, that knot is so tight that all I can do is rip the entire bag open.

better bagsbetter bags The other big grocery in town, Super Mega, still uses the heavy plastic but they have switched to the handled-style version, which leaks due to the manner of construction (U.S. style).

Why, oh, why, do we have to change a good thing? Now, not only am I throwing away most of my bags instead of reusing them, I'm also buying more plastic in the form of trash bags. I don't feel good about this.

January 12, 2007

La Gringa's obsessions

Ha ha! Tricked you again with that catchy title, didn't I?

I Google (most of the time)

I'm obsessed with Google. I love to see the searches that people make that lead them to my blog. It gives me ideas about what to write about. But lately I've been getting a lot of hits from people, umm, shall we say, "looking for love in all the wrong places."

I can't tell you exactly − and you probably don't want to know anyway − because if I spell out what they are looking for, Google will add it to their database and then I'll get even more of those perverts visiting.

I have been racking my brain to try to figure out why Google is sending them to my blogicito. I finally figured it out: I made the mistake of being a little too explicit about chicken facts and used the s_x word. Jeesh! Is that all it takes?

Here is another search from today that I can't quite figure out, but it is funny:

"robberies done with a shovel in 2007"

I'm just trying to picture that....?

I Technorati

I'm also obsessed with Technorati.com. Technorati is a website that tracks and indexes over 63 million (yes, million) blogs (weblogs only, not websites). You can search for blogs or articles, mark your favorites, and do all sorts of things there. They also rank blogs based on how many sites link to them and how "important" those linking sites are using some complicated formula.

When I first discovered Tehnorati, it was shortly after I started my blog in July. La Gringa's Blogicito was ranked 2,100,000 and something. I assumed that it must have been out of 2,200,000 blogs and only later discovered it was from a much, much larger number. The only reason was that many blogs are set up and nothing is ever posted after the first article. About 45% of the authors quit posting during the first three months. And of course, tons of them are spam blogs with stolen, nonsensical, or no content.

After about a month of posting, my blog was ranked in the top million. After another month, it was in the top 200,000 according to Technorati. I couldn't figure it out, but I was pretty excited about it. I decided my goal was to get into the top 50,000 so I kept plugging away.

Made it! Today for the first time, the Blogicito is ranked 48,071. That's out of 63,000,000! Here's the proof:

I had to take a picture for posterity. I'm sure that any day now they will figure out that I am actually writing about Honduras, which not many people really care about, and correct
their grievous error.

In the meantime, I'm really enjoying it. Writing a blog and keeping it up day after day is really hard work as many of you know, especially if you try to make it interesting and not make too many spelling or other stupid errors. That rank is like a pat on the back and we all need that, don't we? ;-D
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