January 31, 2008


When I first started blogging, it was mostly to communicate what life was like here in Honduras to a few internet friends. I found myself writing looooong emails over and over again and wanting an easy way to share photos that related to what I was writing about.

Shampoo ginger, La Ceiba, HondurasHaving been without regular, convenient internet access for about four years, I was way behind the blogging craze. I started reading gardening blogs and ran across Gardener in Mexico's blog which inspired me write about living in Honduras.

I started my blog late one night on a whim, encouraged by the "Create a blog in 3 easy steps!" of Blogger.com and thinking I could just delete the silly thing if I ran out of things to say. Here I am on post number 601 a year and a half later.

Once I started blogging, I began to look for other expatriate blogs, especially those from Honduras or other Central American countries. The pickings were kind of slim outside of Mexico, at least those that turned up in my searches. I found that I liked the ones who were "talking to me." The textbook or travel guide styles just didn't do much for me. I wanted to know the person behind the blog and what his or her life was like! Being an extremely imperfect person myself, I liked to know that the other person wasn't perfect either. Who's life is perfect?

I started out in a style of just "talking to my friends." Then I think I went through a period where I thought I should be more "professional." Now I just sort of think of it as if we (my frequent commenters and friends) are sitting around chatting and having coffee. Hey, some days your friends are interesting, some days they are boring, and some days they are bitchy or whiny, right?

There are so many more expat blogs out there now. Some start and then stop shortly after that first "Here's my blog and I'm going to tell you everything about xxxx" post, but many of the newer ones have become among my favorites. Everyone has different styles, but I still like the ones who let me know who the person is.

Two days ago when I was really down in the dumps, a blogger friend (who shall be nameless since he said it to me privately) wrote: "You are an inspiration to many of your blogger friends, myself included. Thanks for sharing the stories of your life. You help us know we aren't alone when things go wrong." Now that was such an honor to read even though I'm not entirely sure that I deserve such high praise. It really helped to cheer me up, too.

I've had countless people write to ask my advice about various aspects of blogging, and many have said that La Gringa (!) inspired them to blog. Wow! Now that is a huge compliment, too! It still surprises me every time. Maybe it's just that people read the Blogicito and think to themselves, "Well, gawd! I could do what she's doing and probably with better grammar," or maybe "My life is a heck of a lot more interesting than hers!" ;-)

Ixora, La Ceiba, HondurasI think that if I make it look easy, then I must be doing a good job. Whatever the reason, if La Gringa has inspired you to start a blog, this is your chance to promote it. Leave a comment telling us why you started blogging, what your blog is about, what you get out of it personally, and of course, don't forget to give a link to your blog.

I'm really looking forward to seeing your comments, so don't let me down!

We want what we want when we want it

Mexican potatoes with peppers and onionsLa Gringa's 'Mexican' potatoes, no problems finding these ingredients

I was inspired to write this article after reading Grocery List by my friend Billie in San Miguel Allende, Mexico. Billie is a wonderful person (I can just tell from reading her Billieblog) and an excellent cook (ditto) and photographer. She wrote an article about the grocery things that she can't find in Mexico after receiving a question from a reader − the little things that are important to her and her husband and sometimes necessary for a certain recipe.

Everyone has those things that they miss or need for a recipe, at least upon occasion. That's why ethnic markets pop up in the states wherever the ethnic population is large enough to support them. We might love the food where we are but we all want our own stuff once in awhile! There's nothing wrong with that and it's true for every culture.

Turkey frittata with mushrooms and peppersI read several Mexican expatriate blogs and being not such a wonderful person as Billie and quite often gripey about the food and grocery items available here in Honduras, I am usually a little jealous of the stores and selections that I read about in many parts of Mexico.

Well, guess what? Nah-nah-nah! I was amazed to discover that we have some of the things in La Ceiba that Billie can't find in expatriate-laden San Miguel. Her article really surprised me and made me stop and think that I really am grateful for the improvement in the variety of products in La Ceiba in the past six years.

I left a comment for Billie (trying not to gloat too much over the availability of dried cherries in La Ceiba), and as I was writing, another thought struck me:

"One thing nice about living here is when can you remember ever having a happy day in the US because you found chicken broth or Kosher dill pickles in the store? We learn to appreciate the little things, don't we?"

I know that I tend to be too negative and I really, really try to work on that. Part of the problem is my culture! Don't all U.S. Americans want what they want, when they want, at a price they like, and served promptly with a smile? Sure we do. Ask anyone from another country. ;-)

Chinese food with chicken, broccoli, and snow peasBesides, as I've said in the past, the blogicito is a place where I can get these negative thoughts out of my system and subject you poor readers to them instead of El Jefe. And I have an inkling that some of you expats like to read my rants so that you don't have to write them on your blogs or because you like to know that you aren't alone. ;-D

I'll never be as nice and calm and accepting a person as Billie. You should know, however, that I have mellowed by about 50%, but I'll never be Honduran-mellow, I'm sure of that. Anyway, I'm going to try to be a better person and look at the bright side more. I hope you don't get bored.

P.S: I'm still not there yet! This is an article that I drafted a few weeks ago.

P.S.S: Just to keep it real: Two days ago there was no sugar available in the stores here in La Ceiba, Honduras, a sugar-producing country!

Photos: 'Mexican' potatoes sautéed in olive oil with chunks of chiles (peppers) and onions, seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika,
minced garlic, chili powder, cumin, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. I cook these on the stove or in the oven, depending upon what the main course is.

'Italian' frittata: Cubed browned potatoes, peppers, mushrooms (twice a year find in La Ceiba), onions, and left-over turkey sautéed and then cooked in an omelet base, finished off with a sprinkle of cheese melted in the oven. You can put anything in a frittata and they are great for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner.

'Chinese' food: Stir fried chunks of chicken, broccoli, snow peas, carrots, peppers, and
onions, seasoned with soy sauce, Hoisin sauce, Chinese 5-spice powder (brought from the U.S.), served over rice. Here again, this is a dish you can make with whatever meat or veggies you have available.

January 29, 2008

You were right, I was wrong

Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me twice, shame on me.

Fool me fifteen times, and I am an idiot.

Once again I feel slapped in the face for believing in someone.

The week before Christmas, the maid Nora was sick. El Jefe talked to her on previous Sunday when he was trying to call her husband about something else. She really sounded sick and he told her not to come until she felt better. So, of course, she took off the whole week. Justified or not, I don't know.

Friday of that week, he called to see if she could come on Saturday and found that she and the kids had gone on a trip way off in the mountains to visit Carlos' family for the holidays. I did think it was odd since the prior week she had to have an advance for bus fare (L.12; US $0.63) to get to work.

Of course, all these days off are always without any sort of notice or warning at all. That's normal in Honduras. When someone wants a day or week or month off, they just take it. Every pay day is a crap shoot as to whether you will ever see your employee again. Seriously. I'm not exaggerating.

I was even planning on giving her a Christmas bonus to make her holidays a little better. I rethought that idea after all the unannounced missing days, then it became a moot point later, because I never saw her again.

Worst of all, El Jefe discovered something missing. Something valuable, not only in cost but even more so in sentimental value. We've had many things taken over the years. A few valuable things went missing before we ever had a maid when the only people in our apartment were "friends." Probably more than half of the maids we've hired have absconded with less important things. Maybe all of them. I don't take inventory before and after. When we later find things missing, we can sometimes pinpoint it to a particular person and sometimes not.

We thought Nora was different. Nora's husband Carlos worked for us for several years and was always honest and honorable. We trusted him outside and inside the house and never had reason to regret that. Nora had worked for us for a few months on and off in the past and we always assumed that she had similar moral values. We've been to their house. We've shared meals with them. We sat with her at the hospital before her last baby was born. One year I cooked them a complete Christmas turkey dinner which we delivered to them hot on Christmas Eve. So when the item was found missing, we originally assumed it had been misplaced.

But the house has been scoured. The item has not been found. It is possible that El Jefe lost it, but highly improbable. From the time he last remembers seeing it until it was discovered missing, Nora and her son Jounger were the only other people who had access to that part of the house. Maybe that is the reason that he came. If someone somehow was able to get into the house unnoticed, there are many more things that would be missing. The fact that she had money for a trip and never came back to work makes me even more convinced that she did take it.

My guess is that she sold it for some tiny fraction of it's actual value. She may have gotten enough money for a "nice Christmas" if one can have a nice Christmas on ill gotten gains, but no more. Probably right now today, she's wondering how she will be able to feed her children this week or buy them a pair of shoes if, heaven forbid, they should grow out the only pair they have now.

I feel so disheartened. This little thing had a deep meaning for both of us. It can't be replaced. Just as bad is the reinforcement that I can't trust anyone in Honduras and that the people who I thought were the honest ones are only waiting for an opportunity.

I was having connection problems yesterday and couldn't post this article. I started talking to El Jefe about it and the situation and I just burst out crying even though it was a month ago! It hurts to lose the "thing" that meant so much to us, but even more so than that, it hurts to be betrayed by someone who we have had a relationship with for five years and have always helped them when they needed help. We thought they were friends.

I feel like I've lost that last shred of trust and faith in the basic goodness of Hondurans that I was trying so hard to maintain. If it wasn't for El Jefe and his good and decent family, I think I would be ready to go back home. How do you live not being able to trust anyone? Now I'm crying again.

January 25, 2008

Kilos and pounds, meters and feet

scales and measures
I never learned the metric system, except to know that a liter is approximately a quart − thanks to Coca Cola − and that a meter is approximately a yard.

During our house construction, I became a lot more familiar with meters and centimeters because the house plans and many of the materials are sold that way. I was forever translating meters to feet and then back again with adjustments for the house plans.

I still don't feel comfortable enough with metrics to guess at a conversion. If it is something important and needs to be very accurate, I usually have to convert it online or by calculator to be really comfortable with it.

Interestingly, a conglomeration of US and metric type measurements are used in Honduras. Some make it easier for me, others are downright confusing.

Here is a list of the measurements used in certain products/areas:

Fabric - yards or pounds (! how do you know how many pounds of curtains you need?)
Meat and vegetables - pounds
Beans and rice, prepackaged - kilos
Beans and rice, in the market - pounds
Carton of eggs - 15 or 30 (although it is possible to buy one egg at a time)
Gasoline - U.S. gallons
Milk - liters
Distance - kilometers and meters
Wood - feet
Metal - meter
Metal caliber measurements - both metric and inches
Cheese and deli meats - pound
Temperature (climate) - Celsius
Temperature (oven) - Fahrenheit, but recipes frequently give temperatures in F but designate them as C. For example, bake cake at 350°C ?! (662°F)
Land - varas, meters, hectares, and manzanas

Recipes in newspapers and magazines are really a hodgepodge. Ingredient measurements are generally given in metric measurements (grams, liters), but flour is almost always defined in pounds, while sugar is usually in grams. I've seen many recipes which include ingredients in pounds, cups, ounces, liters, and grams − all in the same recipe.

I can't get used to thinking in metrics. I know the formula for converting temperatures in Celsius to Fahrenheit, but it is enough for me to know that 30°C is hot and 20°C is cold to this tropical climate-adjusted body. We rarely get outside of that range in La Ceiba.

Science Made Simple has a quick to use measurement converter. Online Conversion is another good one, with conversions for some not so common measurements.

January 24, 2008

Just in case you didn't know

airport sign, La Ceiba, HondurasAirport sign, La Ceiba, Honduras

I have a hard time keeping up with all the new flight restrictions. This sign was at the La Ceiba airport. Just in case you didn't know, you can't bring your propane tank or your emergency gallon of gasoline on the plane with you.

Odd that this sign was in English in a Spanish-speaking country and I didn't see another one in Spanish.

January 23, 2008


No parking, La Ceiba, HondurasClose up: No parking

There are lots of Prohibido! (prohibited) signs in Honduras.

The sign on the back of the bathroom stall doors will tell you that it is prohibited to throw your toilet paper into the toilet, usually along with a long list of other bathroom requirements. The exit door will tell you it is prohibited to enter there. Restaurant signs may tell you it is prohibited to bring your own food or drinks. Many signs will tell you that it is prohibited to bring your firearms inside or that beggars are prohibited.

No rocks on highway, HondurasOne of my favorites are the highway signs that say it is prohibited to leave rocks on the highway. (Don't ask me!)

No beggars, La Ceiba, Honduras"In this business, we prohibit solicitors, shoe shiners, beggars, bums, etc. -- The management"

(Of course, I've been accosted by some very persistent beggars every time I've been there.)

No bicycles, Tela, Honduras"Prohibited: the circulation of bicycles. L.150 fine. -- Police Court"

At the entrance to the beach in Tela, where beggars, salesmen, bums, and delinquents are allowed, but bicycles, no.

The sign at the top says that truck parking is prohibited in non-working hours. Now pan out for a wider view:

no parking, La Ceiba, Honduras

January 22, 2008

Neighborly love

rainwater drain pipe, La Ceiba, HondurasLook at the PVC pipe sticking out of the house on the left

Water! One of the most needed and sometimes hardest to get necessities of life in Honduras, it is also one of the biggest nuisances, easiest to have an excess of and hardest to get rid of.

In the first instance, I'm talking about drinkable water, clean water to run through the faucets, water to wash the clothes and clean the house and people with.

In the second instance, I'm talking about water that falls from the sky, runs off the roofs, gushes from the rivers, rushes down the street, and often seeps into the house through the roof, windows, or under the doors.

The typical house in La Ceiba has a tall concrete muro (wall) around it which acts like the sides of a soup bowl, containing the rainwater that falls off the roof and sometimes rising to incredible levels inside.

We quickly found out about that after building our muro. The most common solution is to place PVC pipes through the wall as it is being built or to add them later. This usually results in the roof run off gushing out over the sidewalks − not a nice thing for passersby − or into the neighbor's yard − doubly not nice!

rainwater drainage box, La Ceiba, HondurasOur property is sloped on the sides and in back so that flooding isn't a problem except in the front yard. We solved our problem by building two underground concrete bottomless boxes and running PVC pipes underground from the boxes to the curb, where the water drains into the storm sewer.

We graded the land so that each side of the front yard gently slopes toward those boxes. The boxes are covered with Chihuahua-safe metal grates and have functioned perfectly through several years of heavy tropical rainstorms.

In La Ceiba, many buildings have a drainage pipe which extends over the sidewalk from an upper story or the lower part of the building, making the sidewalk unusable even during the mildest of rain. Since many streets in town flood after every rain, pedestrians can't stay dry on the sidewalks or the streets.

The house in the photo at top has solved their roof water runoff problem by installing a large PVC pipe which will drain their excess water into their neighbor's yard! Sad to say, but this is not an unusual solution.

On very small lots, neighbors will sometimes build their roof so that it overhangs the muro, again draining their water into their neighbor's yard. Sometimes a house will not have a drainage problem until their new neighbor comes along and fills in their lot until it is a few feet higher than their neighbor's lot.
So now the victim not only has to figure out a way with dealing with their own runoff but has to deal with the runoff from two houses.

If there are any building restrictions to prevent this type of abuse, they apparently are not enforced. Neighborly love, ain't it grand?

January 19, 2008

2008 models are out

Banegas corruption cartoon, HondurasCartoon by: Dario Banegas, La Prensa, Jan. 18, 2008

Honduras' 2008 models are out. No change from the 2006 models.

So, you see, it's not just me who bemoans the lack of honor and ethics that seems to be so pervasive in Honduras. Not everyone, no, but enough that Honduras will never get ahead as long as its citizens tolerate the corruption.

January 18, 2008

Affordable soup and Ripoff-Roni

Campbell's soup L.27.29In case you can't read the price above: L.27.29

I just knew that the L.47.80 (US $2.53 plus 12% tax) price for Cream of Chicken soup was a mistake. Sure enough! On this trip to Paiz, it was back to L.27.29 (US $1.44) where it was before, and which is more in line with what my readers told me.

Anyone living in Honduras knows that there is not a chance in hell that I could have ever gotten anyone to listen and check the pricing of this item. Hondurans make no errors − ever.

Then there was this normal-sized box of Pasta Roni Fettuccine Alfredo, somewhere around $3.00.

But look inside:

I drew a black arrow on the outside of the box (photo above) at the level that the pasta inside the box reached. I know that "contents may settle during shipment" but, jeesh! This is ridiculous.

January 17, 2008

Scallops, shrimp and pasta

scallops, shrimp, and pastaScallops, shrimp, chile, sun-dried tomatoes with pasta

I have such a wealth of stuff in the freezer from the San Pedro shopping trips that I had to pull everything out today just to see what I had. I had forgotten about the scallops. Yum. Except for the freezer, the cupboard is kind of bare right now, so I improvised.

I found one chile and some garlic in the fridge, super thin spaghetti and sun dried tomatoes (also from San Pedro) in the pantry. Starting to get an idea here, I pulled out some of my stash of frozen turkey stock.

The scallops were in a one pound bag (.5 kilo) which seemed too much, but then again, I wasn't sure that a half pound would be enough, so I pulled out a small handful of frozen shrimp as well to use with half the scallops.
I sliced the chile and tomatoes thinly and sautéed them briefly in a little olive oil. Then I dusted the scallops with a little flour, sautéed them and the shrimp with a large pressed garlic clove for just a couple of minutes. I removed everything from the pan to make the sauce, not wanting to overcook the seafood.

I stirred in a couple of spoonfuls of corn starch to the cup and a half of turkey broth and cooked it until slightly thickened, while adding lots of dried basil and a little freshly ground pepper (smashed with my rock − but not this one). Then at the last minute I decided that wine would add a nice flavor to the sauce. All I had was cooking wine, but it did add a good flavor. Then I dumped all the ingredients back into the sauce to reheat them for a minute.

I served it over thin spaghetti, with an egg roll and plum sauce (also from San Pedro) and freshly made whole wheat rolls.

homemade papaya ice creamDessert? Homemade papaya ice cream from the mother of all papayas. That only leaves us about 10 pounds of papaya left (4.5 kilos).


Que rico.

The mother of all papayas

mother of all papayas

This was from El Jefe's mother's tree, which is only about 8 feet tall. Amazing.

Kitchen Island

Chloe the Rottweiler/DobermanKitchen island

Not useful, not functional, but pretty.

January 16, 2008

Drunken official gets beat up by police

Aaron at Pensieve wrote about the latest Honduran scandal. I wasn't going to write about it, but after I babbled on and on in his comment section, I decided that I would share my thoughts with you, too.

The basic story is that a high-level government official was coming home late at night, was stopped by the police for drunk driving, taken into the police station, and later got into an altercation with the police, from which it looks like he got the worst of the situation. He later resigned his government position. Aaron has the YouTube video of the brawl.

Politics is so depressing. Here is a bad situation that could have been used for good. It could have been used to show that no one is above the law and as an impetus to take action against police brutality. Instead, as Aaron predicts, it will probably just disappear from the headlines with no action being taken.

There are two very distinct issues here and it's a real shame that they are so entangled.

Drunk driving is a horrendous problem in Honduras, one in which I would imagine that the average person gets off scott free with the changing of hands of a little cash (maybe a little more cash if someone was killed). 'Important' people probably get an escort home and salutes from the police. I think that those people merely need say "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?" and absolutely nothing will happen to them. Making an example of an important person would have been a wonderful step in the right direction. But, as we know, Honduran laws are only for the peons.

Unfortunately, the issue of police brutality has obscured the issue of drunk driving. I really can't tell from the video who started the fight. If it was the chancellor, he must have REALLY been drunk! Police brutality should never be tolerated and whatever the situation was here, there were certainly enough police present to subdue him without punching him in the face.

However, we know that this happens all the time in Honduras. We see photos of criminals all bloody and bruised in the newspapers all the time. The only reason it is an issue at all is because this time, it's an 'important' person and regardless of what crimes they commit, Hondurans believe that 'important' people deserve respect and shouldn't be subject to the rules that everyone else has to follow.

This was a wonderful opportunity for President Zelaya to make a stand about drunk driving (no one is above the law) and police brutality. El Tiempo made the Chancellor out to be a hero. The caption above says that he resigned with class and dignity, right next to his photo showing his black eye and bruises where he was restrained by the officers.

I wondered if this was normal behavior of the Chancellor and whether in doing his job as Minister of Foreign Relations he had ever embarrassed the country with his drunken behavior? Personally, I think public officials should be held to a higher standard, especially if they are dealing with foreign dignitaries.

Most of the talk that I heard and read was about police brutality and human rights, but there was also a lot of talk about how everyone does it (driving while drunk) and that he shouldn't have lost his job. There seemed to be much more concern about the embarrassment to Honduras caused by the YouTube video than there was about either act.

One writer even deplored the use of modern technology to discredit public officials, saying the official made a pequeño error (tiny error). What? It wasn't the video proof that discredited him. Didn't the public official discredit himself? If it wasn't caught on video, it didn't happen? And how many children and adults have been killed by these pequeño errores in Honduras?

El Tiempo is the newspaper to read for a good laugh. I've never seen another newspaper that so shamefully twists the truth.

January 15, 2008

Tributes to Gardener in Mexico

Photo by: Andee Carlsson, the Gardener in Mexico

I just googled "Andee Chacala" and there are so many tributes to her. She touched so many lives.

1stMate wrote a wonderful article and includes a photo of a drawing that Andee gave to her on a visit to Chacala. She was such a talented person.

Andee was a frequent contributor to LonelyPlanet's Thorntree Mexico forum and many people are remembering her there.

Steve at Same Life-New location wrote a touching tribute to Andee.

Jennifer at Siguiendo my Catracho will also miss Andee, who had been encouraging her to follow her heart and come to Honduras.

Another tribute came from North Carolina.

Brenda and Roy in Mexico describe Andee as a straight-shooter which is something I enjoyed so much about her.

Tom made me smile when he mentioned her "Whatever" comments. Those always cracked me up.

Her son has set up a private Google Group for those friends who would like to make a comment about how they came to know Andee or to read the comments left by her other friends. Wayne of
Isla Mujeres has all the information in this article, Memorium for Andee.

It is such a cliché but it still amazes me what a very small world it has become with the proliferation of blogs. We all seem to be interconnected.


January 14, 2008

Goodbye to Andee

Photo by: Andee Carlsson, the Gardener in Mexico

I've just read some very, very sad news. My good friend and blogging-buddy, Andee, from Chacala, Mexico, has passed away from what is believed to be a stroke. Her son was kind enough to write to let me know.

I'm sure that many readers know Andee from her blogs. She had a refreshing viewpoint and never hesitated to speak her mind.

She was, in fact, the first person who I 'met' through a blog. Although we never met in person, I considered her a good friend and felt like we had known each other forever. I helped her with some of the technical aspects of blogging as best I could and she helped me in other ways. Probably more than anyone else, she inspired me to start blogging.

When I first discovered blogs, I wrote to her through her Gardener in Mexico blog to talk about tropical gardening. Later that same night, I found her My Life in Chacala blog and was planning to 'introduce' the two Mexican expatriate gardeners to each other when I soon discovered that they were one and the same person.

During the time that I knew Andee, she went from not even owning a camera to being a really fabulous photographer. If you haven't seen her blogs, I think that you will enjoy her photos of plants, people, and colorful Chacala as well as other parts of Mexico very much. The photos in this article are Andee's.

Andee's son Erik has said that he will maintain her blogs online and I sure hope that he will, both as a tribute to Andee, and as a helpful guide to those wanting to learn more about life and gardening in Mexico. I'm sure that she would want that. She often talked about what a wonderful son she had and so looked forward to his visits.

Erik also said that Andee spent the last years of her life being where she wanted to be and doing the things she wanted to do. I know that is true. She did many kindnesses for the people of Chacala and I'm sure that she will be missed there more than anywhere.

Goodbye, Andee. May you have peace, and rest knowing that you were loved by many people in many countries.

The photos in this article are from Andee's blogs, Gardener in Mexico and My Life in Chacala, Mexico and are included as a tribute to her.

January 13, 2008

Cultural differences: To open the gifts or not

In my previous article Cultural differences: Opening gifts, I made some guesses as to why gifts are not generally opened by the recipient in front of the giver in Honduras: out of courtesy to the giver, in case they don't like the gift; it might be considered rude to flaunt your gifts; it might embarrass someone who gave a modest gift; or maybe it would seem greedy to dig right into the gifts.

According to Hondurans Aaron and Angel, it turns out I wasn't far off base. Aaron commented:
But deep in my subconscious, I don't like to open my gift in public, because, if I don't like it, I might not be a good enough actor to pull off a convincing "THANK YOU!", and embarrass the giver.
But if you are considering that it is the thought that counts, you can sincerely thank someone for thinking about you, even if the gift wasn't something that you wanted or needed.

Ángel said this:
From what I remember, the custom of not opening the gifts during the party is due to:

1) not trying to look greedy by taking importance in the gifts instead of the giver that is coming to the party. Thus one takes care of people that even show up with no gift at all.

2) Not embarrassing someone that might have given a modest gift by opening it in front of all the other guests.
These answers help me to understand the custom.

Minerva (European) made some interesting comments from another perspective:
LOL, I am used to that from home country. I still remember how awfully surprised - and at least mildly disgusted - I was when I encountered the opening gifts in the presence of guests habit in the USA. "What a crass commercialism", I thought, "How tasteless to be so interested in WHAT you got when it is a THOUGHT, not a thing, that should count". For years I was rebelling against this habit of displaying the content of gifts by giving gifts less generous that I would have given the same person in those countries, where nobody's generosity - or ability to afford expensive gifts - is so blatantly put on display. Hurray, Honduras!

In countries where gifts are not displayed, they might not even be signed - sort of anonymous. If you want to know who gave you what - in case you got something very personal (hand made or something you dreamt about a long time, or something you know required a lot of thought) - you need to remember the packaging. I wonder if Japanese gifts are always anonymous (they have always been handed to me by a giver, thus with no signed cards attached), since Japanese put at least as much thought in original (time consuming, lavish, etc) packaging than in the gifts itself. And if anybody tore the packaging of a Japanese gift the way Americans do, the Japanese would be shocked and more than mildly insulted. And not only Japanese...
I hope that Minerva and others don't think that all Americans are the way she described. That seems a bit of stereotyping based on my own experiences in the U.S. Several of the N. American commenters expressed the sentiment that we just want to share in the happiness of the recipient and really do care whether they liked the gift. To ignore the gift or hide it away without comment seems a bit unappreciative and, yes, crass (!) to us.

"Obligatory gifts" to someone you don't know as well may fall into another category altogether. Maybe it isn't as important to know whether the person liked it but surely it is important in most cultures to say thank you?

This makes me think of baby or wedding showers, where one of the highlights of the party is the opening of the gifts, where everyone oohs and aahs over each gift in turn and appreciation is shown to the giver. I suppose to someone of another culture that could be considered crass, but I always enjoyed seeing the gifts so much even though I wasn't the one receiving them!

My opinion is that Minerva is misinterpreting the motives behind opening the gifts, at least most of the time. While there are probably clods who value the most expensive or best brand name product more, that really cannot be said across the board. If it was so, I would have quit making handmade gifts a long time ago.

I have no idea where the U.S. custom of opening gifts came from, but it never, ever occurred to me to attribute it to commercialization or greed. As Minerva says, it is the thought that counts, and by showing your appreciation, you are honoring the person who thought about you!

Even as children at Christmas, we were always expected to take turns opening one gift at a time and to thank the person who gave it. We were also taught that it was the thought that counted, not the actual gift, and to show appreciation even when the gift might not have been exactly what we had hoped for. Heaven forbid that we were ever so rude as to act displeased with a gift! Gifts were opened carefully and slowly, often remarking on the beautiful or clever packaging, saving the ribbons and sometimes the paper as well. Really! It's true.

All that said, I'll admit that I've been to some children's birthday parties where I was embarrassed for the child and his parents. Unchecked greed was definitely the theme of the day. But it isn't ALL Americans who act this way!

I also remember one wedding where the bride and groom sent out a mass emailing to the guests asking who had given the (expensive brand name I forget) crystal wine glasses because the card had been lost and they wanted to thank the giver. Since several of us never received a thank you before or after the email, we could only assume that our gifts weren't worthy. That was crass. ;-/

Here in La Ceiba, even though a gift is wrapped, it is often given inside a Carrion department store bag, possibly to show that the gift was purchased at one of the best stores in town - even when sometimes it wasn't. ;-) I sometimes do have a feeling that handmade gifts are not valued as much. So commercialism isn't limited to the U.S. either.

Most of us wouldn't mind the private opening if we just received a little thank you later on. Like Sharon, I have given handmade gifts that have taken many days/weeks to complete. To never receive a thank you or even acknowledgment really does hurt a little. If they didn't care for the gift, it would be so much easier the next time to just pick up some last minute thing at the store.

As Wayne mentioned, if you didn't give the gift in person, there is also the practical consideration that you don't even know if the person ever received it. Similarly, if it is the wrong size/color or they already have one, we could assist in exchanging the gift - something that isn't always easy to do in Honduras. If you don't know, you could go on buying the wrong size for the rest of your life!

This is definitely a cultural difference with those on the side of not opening the gifts thinking it is a little rude to open them and those on the side of opening gifts thinking it is a little rude to not take that opportunity to show appreciation to the giver. We have to get used to the customs of the country where we are and it sounds like tolerance is needed on all sides. But we shouldn't assume the worst reason for the custom in either case.

January 12, 2008

Something I learned in Honduras

Here is another new thing I learned in Honduras that I'll bet you didn't know:

Lipstick molds!

The photo isn't so clear, but trust me, these lipsticks were moldy.

Another thing I noticed when checking my lipstick stash (which I rarely use), was that several of them had the tips smashed against lids. As you can see from these, La Gringa is a fanatic about maintaining the original proper angle of the lipstick. Using my little detective mind, I realized that since La Gringa always rolls the lipstick all the way down, other people had been snooping around my lipsticks and had not rolled them down properly before putting the lid on.

Thankfully, I've never noticed a maid showing up all of a sudden in the middle of the day wearing lipstick, but the thought made me go, "Eeeewwww!"

January 9, 2008

On the road to shopping again

grocery finds, San Pedro Sula, HondurasMy goodies from San Pedro Sula

Subtitled: It's Christmas again at La Gringa's house!

temporary bridge patched with sheet metal, HondurasWe made another pleasant trip to San Pedro Sula again last week. The second in two weeks. We had a bit of a scare in that the river where the temporary bridge was located was really high and fierce. The sheet metal covering holes in the temporary bridge didn't do anything to reassure us.

building a bridge, HondurasYou'll probably laugh at this, but we opened the windows and unhooked our seat belts for escape purposes just in case. As we were passing the bridge we saw that the scaffolding around the new part being built had washed away. We breathed a sigh of relief when we were on the other side.

We got to San Pedro late, as usual. Darn! Sears only had one of those towels that I wanted and I couldn't find a yogurt maker. Other than that it was a great trip. I just couldn't take take photos in the stores as we were pressed for time. I'm not sure if they would allow it but I didn't even ask. I can tell you that for the most part, the stores looked just like in the U.S.

We were thinking of buying a flat screen television. Before you start thinking that we are extravagant, our main TV is from 1991! It's been resurrected three times by a Honduran repairman, but the picture is dark and not very good. We ended up not buying one even though Diunsa had some good sales prices. Oh, I guess it is still extravagant since the new one probably won't last 17 years like the last one. That's probably why we didn't buy it. Maybe they will go on sale again this summer.

grocery finds, San Pedro Sula, HondurasI bought some fabrics − there is a ton of sewing in my near future − and a lot of groceries. We went to Los Andes Commissary for a quick look for whole wheat flour and found all the stuff in the photo above, plus more that I forgot to put in the photo.

There are things in these photos that I have not seen in six and a half years! Fillo dough! Spring roll wrappers! Dill relish! Scallops! Dill! Semolina flour! Bread flour! Frozen peas! U.S. export quality rib eye steaks! Can you tell I'm excited?

Most exciting find of all: I found this 5 lb. bag of wild rice for L.149 (US $7.88). Compare that with the 4 oz. box in La Ceiba for L.162 (US $8.57)! That is just evil. El Jefe had never seen black rice before and was pretty skeptical. He liked it, though, and I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't ask me to cook it for his family some time just to shock them.

My refrigerator and freezer are both stuffed to the gills. I was going to make some whole wheat bread today until I remembered that there is no room to store it in the freezer.

I'll be going back to that store at least every couple of months, for sure. I didn't even buy everything I wanted just because I was worried about having space for it. Some of the things I bought aren't things that I pine for or even think about, but when I saw them, my mind said "I WANT THAT!" Polish sausage, Italian sausage, Oscar Mayer hard salami were some of those things.

The La Ceiba grocery stores have been out of real Parmesan cheese for at least 4 months. Honduran Parmesan cheese smells like dirty tennis shoes and that Kraft powdered stuff is unacceptable. I have found canned chicken broth here but the last time was in 2006. I do make my own but it's nice not to have to all the time.

Oh, I was dancing for joy in that store. Now I have to go look up those recipes that I've been skipping over because the ingredients weren't available.

To top off a good shopping day, we stopped at Tre Fratelli's, an Italian restaurant for dinner. I had smoked chicken ravioli with a basil-jalapeño sauce. Yummy-spicy! El Jefe had a mixed seafood fettuccine which was really good also and came with a ton of seafood. A lesser man couldn't have finished the whole thing. ;-P We were served some homemade bread which I swear tasted exactly like my homemade herb bread. I also had my first chocolate mousse in 7 years. It was like a long-awaited sexual experience. I still get shivers thinking about it. Tre Fratelli's gets two thumbs up from us.

Years ago we made many trips to San Pedro, but they were usually to buy construction materials so we would spend most or all of our time in ferreterías (hardware stores). Boring! Not to mention that to order, pay for, and pick up even a bag of nails in a hardware store takes about 2 1/2 hours. Each trip, I would make a list and plan to check out a grocery store or look for furniture or fabric stores, and each trip we would run out of time. Then after the house was completed, for one reason or another we couldn't leave it. Then for the last couple of years we've had car problems and were afraid to take it on a long trip. No more! Now it's my turn. I'm going back no matter what.

66F in HondurasWe feel like country hicks going to the Big Apple when we go to San Pedro. It's always fun. We often mention that we are from La Ceiba and people are almost always very nice. That fact sometimes helps us when we say that we have to drive aaaall the way back to La Ceiba tonight and could they possibly get something for us a little quicker? ;-)

After that was the long drive home. I offered to drive, but El Jefe said no. "What's the matter? Don't you trust my driving?" "Well, frankly, no, I don't." I laughed because that was fine by me! I wasn't looking forward to the long, hard drive late at night.

car seat heaterI turned on my seat heater for the second time in 7 years, covered up with a blanket (yes, it was a cold night!), and promptly fell to sleep for almost the entire trip. What a guy! It's nice to have a macho man around.

tilapia, wild rice, and peasThis was our first meal afterward. Parmesan-crusted tilapia with tarter sauce made with dill and dill relish, wild rice, peas, and an egg roll with plum sauce. Of course, it was way too much and El Jefe had the rest for lunch the next day.

January 8, 2008

My stash

stash of twist tiesMy stash of twist ties and bag clips

This is my stash of twist ties, bread bag clips, and big plastic bag clips. You can never have enough bag closers, I say.
Especially here in Honduras where so many things come in a plain (non-resealable) plastic bag. Flour, rice, sugar, beans....come to think of it, all of those things I put in plastic canisters to keep the bugs and humidity out.

Hmmmm, finger tap, finger tap, hmmm.

Well, my mind is completely blank right now but, trust me, it seems as if everything comes in a plastic bag without a twist tie.*

The bags themselves are usually tied into a tight knot with which I lost patience after about two days of living in Honduras. I began irritably ripping the bags open or ruthlessly cutting off the knot with a pair of scissors.
El Jefe laughs at my impatience with the bags. Hardly a week goes by that I don't snarl, "I hate these plastic bags!" Hey, I tried to be neat, but 10 minutes a day tying and untying bags is more of my life than I want to give up.

Don't ask me how people have the patience to painstakingly untie those knots, use part of the product, tie them back up, and then start over again the next day! I've noticed that a lot of Hondurans seem to bite their fingernails down to the nubs so I don't know how they can possibly get those knots open.

When I'm buying veggies, I purposely don't tie the bag into a knot so I won't have to struggle with it later. But then the checkout clerks or bag boys always tie it for me. Then they often put it in another plastic bag in which they tie a knot, and then they put it in a grocery bag and tie a knot in that, too. Aargh!

*Oh, yeah, my brain started working again: mantequilla (sort of like sour cream), milk, bread, bagels, deli meats and cheeses, regular meat and fish, eggs (sometimes), casabe, fruits and veggies, Splenda, tortillas, sauces for to go food, sometimes the to go food itself, juices, nuts, detergent, street food, screws and nails, and the list goes on and on and on.

Thanks go to
Good Life Dominica for giving me the idea to blog about the important topic of twist ties. I guess that Honduras isn't the only twist-tieless country around. ;-)

January 7, 2008

You make my day

you make my day award
This time I'm not talking about the readers, but you already know that you readers make my day when you comment, right?

The Blogicito received the "You make my day" award from two other bloggers in the same day! Island bloggers Jen at Living Dominica and Zooms at Free Spirit (Grenada) both included me on their lists. I feel so honored. It really makes my day to hear something like that from other bloggers who I respect. Jen is a professional writer and Zooms is an artist and poet, while I am, well, La Gringa, blabbing in conversational tone about what I did today.

It seems that lots of us expatriate bloggers have found each other. I've noticed my blog links showing up on other blogs and comments from bloggers who I know showing up on other blogs that I read. It's like a group of neighbors gradually getting to know each other. Sometimes it really seems such a small world.

In the case of expatriate
blogs (not expatriot, please! That is one of my pet peeves), you might even say that we are a bunch of new-to-the-neighborhood neighbors, who enjoy knowing that we aren't the only ones trying to understand and adapt to a new culture.

I'm going to give out my own You Make My Day awards very soon.

January 6, 2008

And I thought ketchup and mayo was bad...

La Gringa in Rio says that Brazilians eat the most disgusting hot dogs in the world. Here is a partially list of the ingredients:

  • Peas
  • Corn
  • Raisins
  • Olives
  • Hard boiled egg

That is only a small portion of the condiments that were added to ONE hot dog! Read the whole list at Adventures of a gringa in Rio. As one commenter mentioned, how is it even possibly to put that much stuff on a measly hot dog?

Most of the Honduran hot dogs that I've seen prepared had ketchup and mayonnaise, which I think is totally disgusting. MUSTARD! That is what belongs on a hot dog! Mustard and dill relish, and maybe chili and cheese. Oh, okay, onions if you like them. Mayo − never!!!!

Hot dogs show up in the most unexpected places in Honduras. They really should give hot dog warnings on the menu. I've seen sliced hot dogs in baleadas (bean and cheese filled tortillas), arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), Chinese food, spaghetti, and even soup.

I can't force myself to eat Honduran hot dogs and can't even bear the smell of them cooking (the smell lingers in the house for hours) but El Jefe must have them occasionally.

Here is a tip for expats moving to Honduras:
If you must buy Honduran hot dogs, be aware that they come individually wrapped in their own silky smooth plastic condom. I didn't notice the first time and began cooking them in the plastic wrapper. Silly me.

Readers, I don't know if you can top Gringa in Rio, but tell us about the worst-dressed hot dog you've ever seen.

What I wouldn't give for a lowly Oscar Mayer hot dog right now.

January 5, 2008

Cultural differences: Opening gifts

Here in Honduras, people, at least in our family, don't open their gifts in front of others. Of course, they say thank you, but since they haven't seen the gift yet, it doesn't mean a lot. Is it a "OMG, thank you! I've been wanting one of these for ages!" or a "Oh, thanks, but I wouldn't be caught dead wearing this" or a "Oh, gee, thanks, I always wanted to have five of these to stuff in my closet"?

I suppose it is out of courtesy to the giver, in case they don't like the gift. I asked about it at a recent family quinceaño party (15th birthday). El Jefe said that it was because someone might give underwear and the person would be embarrassed to show it. I laughed and said, "Well, yeah, if you were wearing it, it could be embarrassing but what is embarrassing about just looking at it?!"

Our 15-year-old niece M agreed with El Jefe, and I suppose, at 15, girls may be embarrassed to have others view their underwear. My sister-in-law B acted like the possibility of opening gifts in front of the givers was like something from Mars! Other than the underwear, I still don't have a satisfying answer.

Other thoughts that I had were that it might be considered rude to flaunt your gifts or it might embarrass someone who gave a modest gift or maybe it would seem greedy to dig right into the gifts, but those are just speculation on my part. It's very frustrating to me that most of the time I can't get an answer for 'why' something is done! Underwear? Surely that can't be the only reason.

I know it is selfish of me, but I really want to know if the person liked the gift! That is part of my joy of giving a gift. Or if there is a problem with the size or the color, I would be happy to volunteer to exchange it for them or in this case, even take M shopping to pick out something she liked.

I also brought gifts for the other children, well, just because I wanted to. Later during the party, the four-year-old girl came out prancing around carrying her little dress and as we were leaving, the younger boy came out and gave me a big hug and very formally thanked me for his gift, so I did get some satisfaction there! I just like to know if the person liked the gift!

We were chatting about this custom outside with them after most of the guests had left. El Jefe was chastising me with "This is Honduras, not the U.S." and I was arguing, "Yes, I KNOW THAT, but I STILL don't like the custom!" So finally I asked the birthday girl, even if it isn't normal, just to make ME happy, would she open her gift from me? It was late and I'm sure that she was anxious to dig into all the presents, so she quickly said yes!

She seemed genuinely pleased with the blouse and purse and quickly put the − yes, ;-D − underwear back in the bag. So I was happy! Deciding it wasn't such a bad thing after all, one by one she brought all of her gifts outside and opened them while we exclaimed about how pretty or practical each gift was.

Honestly, I'm not trying to change the custom but it WAS fun to see her gifts and to see her pleasure. And I don't think I'll change either in that I do enjoy seeing the gifts being opened − I'll just have to live with it.

See the update here.

January 3, 2008

Recycling by horse cart

recycling by horse cart, La Ceiba, HondurasHorse cart full of recyclables

I was so happy to see that someone besides me is recycling in La Ceiba. This just shows that it CAN be done, even though I hear people pooh-pooh the idea all the time.

recycling by horse cart, La Ceiba, HondurasIn a country where there is so much poverty, there are people who will take the time to collect bottles and cans. Sadly, those people don't usually have transportation to take the things to where they can be sold. With gas costing US $3.50 per gallon, it isn't cost efficient to have a pick up service. This seems like the perfect solution!

There are also people who understand the importance and would recycle the things from their household, if it was made easy for them. I really think this is something that the city could organize and it wouldn't have to cost the taxpayers a dime. In the long run, it would save the city money on landfill costs, cleaning out sewers, street clean ups, not to mention making the city more attractive for tourists and its citizens! Heaven knows there are enough plastic Coke bottles here to circle the earth.

Just a tip for those readers living in La Ceiba or elsewhere in Honduras:

recycling by horse cart, La Ceiba, HondurasWe save our rinsed cans in one bag and plastic bottles in another, using clear bags. When the bag or bags are full, we put them out for the regular trash collectors who are very grateful. They resell the materials but generally have to dig through everyone's nasty, smelly garbage to pull them out. It helps them to earn a little more money and we feel much better about our recyclables not filling up the landfill.

It's simple and easy so just talk to your trash collectors about whether they recycle or whether they would if you make it easy for them.
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