June 30, 2008

Planes, trains, and motorcycles in 1950 Honduras

The following guest blog was provided by Ed, who moved to La Ceiba in 1950 with his parents at the tender age of 14:

1915 steam engine, La Ceiba, Honduras1915 steam engine

Back in the 1950's, the Parque (central park) and the Hotel Paris were the gathering places for all people of La Ceiba. The large shade trees and several benches offered relief from direct sun and an opportunity to greet friends and chat. Across the street, the Hotel with its bar and restaurant attracted a somewhat more affluent crowd. Businessmen and town officials all showed up, sooner or later. Inside, the room was dominated by a massive mahogany bar. Ceiling fans rotated slowly.

Flies were everywhere, and were barely held in check by a half dozen streamers of 'fly paper'. The paper streamers were coated with a very sticky and pungent substance. Once an insect landed, it was stuck fast and soon died. Well, after a few days, one can imagine what these streamers looked like. When the flypaper filled up, it was replaced with a fresh streamer.

I had lunch there a few times, but always felt out of place as the only gringo. Lots of stares and whispering, or so I thought. The bartender didn't seem to care much if a customer was of legal age (whatever it was). Anyone who could reach up and put money on the bartop got beer. There may have been others, but Salva Vida was the choice of most.

The beer wasn't the only attraction for me. Two of the locals rode motorcycles. Now, there was something to get excited about. One was a two-stroke Jawa 250, and the other a BSA 650 "Golden Flash". The BSA was always immaculately clean, in spite of dusty roads. The chrome tank, fenders, and head pipes could blind a fellow in the sunshine. I got close enough to see my reflection−and thus began a lifelong love affair with all things motorcycle.

Most people got about on foot. More often than not, on sandals fashioned from old automobile tire treads. The 'middle class" rode bicycles. The predominate make was the British made Raleigh. Occasionally, one saw a French Peugeot. The 'wealthy' rode motorcycles and scooters. Very few locals owned cars, and most of them were used as taxis.

The cost and having to deal with all the paperwork involved in buying a car Stateside left few choices. Those choices were cars brought into Honduras by Standard Fruit employees and later sold when they left. Our family sold the Nash locally, for more than it had cost in the US.

It was surprising to see a large number of the not so well to do Hondurans traveling by air. The were two airlines that serviced the local airport. TACA and SAHSA. The terminal was barely more than a tin roofed unpainted wooden shack. One paid the fare, and walked out to the plane carrying ones own luggage. The planes were DC 3s, old even then. Seating was two by two fore and aft, with a cargo area just behind the pilot. One could ship just about anything by air. The only limitation was if it wouldn't fit past the cargo door. Once, I flew with crates of chickens and two goats. The cargo area and the passenger area were the same with no partition.

At the time, Tegucigalpa was the only capital city in the world that couldn't be reached by rail. Might explain all the air travel. Trains had always been a passion of mine, and to this day, still are.

La Ceiba, being the shipping port for bananas and mahogany, the were many, many trains coming and going. The train yards were located in Mazapan, so there was alot of activity to interest this 14 year old. The engines were oil fired and steam driven. The larger engines were assigned names of the provinces of Honduras. For example: Atlantida, Yoro, and Santa Barbara. The names were painted in white on the cab's sides. Smaller engines were given the names of towns and villages. Tela, La Lima, Olanchito.

My next door neighbor (Charlie Cate) was the man in charge of railroad operations. After much pleading form me, he got me a job as a mozo (boy) in the yard. My duties were to check the oil levels in the boxcar wheel journal (bearing) boxes with a long spouted oil can and a flashlight. Loss of lubricating oil on the bearings resulted in overheating, destruction of the bearing, and often fires. So all in all, it was a pretty important job for a kid.

For a week's work, I was paid nine lempiras ($4.50 US). This lasted for about a month, and I was fired. Seems someone complained about a 'rich' gringo taking a job away from a needy local to Mr. Cate, and I was out. I can't argue with the logic. My stepfather thought it was the Communist reformers who were always at odds with the banana companies. I always wondered how that looked on my resume: "Fired at fourteen, from first job."

Thank you for the story, Ed. You can read Ed's previous guest blog here.

Hotel Paris is still a popular hotel among gringos today and el Parque Central is still crowded with people all the time. The railroads were eventually turned over to the Honduran government where they were run into the ground and are no longer operational. The remnants of the rails are still being sacked and pilfered for scrap metal. Some of the old rail cars and an engine are on display at Parque Swinford.

June 29, 2008

The (real) Mosquito Coast

La Mosquitia (sometimes spelled Moskitia or Miskitia, named for the Miskito indians) is a large isolated area of eastern Honduras (and Nicaragua) accessible only by air or sea that is generally abandoned and ignored by the government. The former small fishing villages have increasingly become a haven for drug trafficking.

Paul Theroux's novel The Mosquito Coast was set in La Mosquitia, Honduras, though the film starring Harrison Ford was filmed in Belize. A reader who wishes to remain anonymous submitted this guest blog with photos. (Photos − whoopee!) The following is an excerpt from an email she sent to family and friends in August 2005 about life in a coastal village in La Mosquitia.

La Mosquitia (the Mosquito Coast), Honduras and Nicaragua

Things on the coast are really changing this month because the moratorium (veda) on lobster diving that began in April is finally over. Life in the villages was getting really depressing because without the wage labor opportunities at sea, NO ONE has any money. Small local stores can’t even afford to stock their shelves since their customers aren’t buying anything.

July was really tough - for instance when I talked with one woman she said she had a headache, probably because she had not eaten all day. She had not eaten all day because she had no money to buy food. It did not help that her husband had sold their only cow last month, then proceeded to drink up all the money from the sale. She has seven kids to feed, too. Life can be so hard for women here!

Since job opportunities for women are few and far between, they have to depend on men (husbands, fathers, brothers, sons) to give them cash for household necessities. On August 1, almost all the men went out on the boats to make some much needed money. How much will be used to pay for their families’ food, clothes, and medical care (rather than rum and beer for themselves) remains to be seen.

Right now the kids are all busy gathering nances (Byrsonima crassifolia), a fruit the size of a blueberry, but yellow. They put them in plastic bottles and make a drink with water and sugar. It has an interesting taste, very distinctive. Fresco de nance is incredibly popular here. One family (with lots of small kids to collect the tiny things when they fall off the trees) made enough money last year from selling them to buy all the children new school clothes.

We are well into hurricane season, but have been lucky so far. Despite our remote location, we always hear when there is a hurricane, even if we do not feel the effects. Right now the communities are in the process of forming an emergency response committee to handle anything that may happen in the future. Participants are receiving first aid training and structures (supposedly) are being built inland in case evacuation is ever necessary. I was told that the project is being funded by the EU.

Something pretty exciting happened a few weeks ago. People are really worried about the increasing drug trafficking through the region and their communities. Every night you can hear the drug boats speeding out on the water. No one except the 'mafia' has motors that powerful. Local families are lucky if they have small motors for their dugout canoes.

Lately the small planes that occasionally fly into one of the villages have apparently been bringing cocaine in too. Men with large boats wait for the shipment, load up the drugs, and then head to the next destination. By word of mouth, people in the communities managed to plan a secret resistance to what they see as a real threat to their safety and well-being. They all agreed on a certain day (the signal being the sound of an approaching plane) to gather out on the airstrip and block the plane from landing in protest of the local "airline's" owner's decision to use his planes to bring in drugs.

There was quite a crowd and a confrontation with the man who owns the planes. He agreed to be more vigilant of the planes’ cargo and eventually (after a bunch of speeches) the protesters said they would allow him to continue landing in the village (FOR NOW). I can only imagine that this struggle to keep the drug trade out of their villages will be ongoing.

Thank you, Anon, for this peek into life in La Mosquitia. I noticed that the photo of the children was titled "Pounding rice" and I'm wondering why rice is pounded?

Coincidentally, just yesterday, a boat with 4.6 tons of cocaine was captured in the area of La Mosquitia by a joint operation of the Honduran and U.S. Coast Guards.

June 28, 2008

Happy Birthday to me

All together now:

Happy Birthday to La Gringa

¡Feliz cumpleaños a ti!

Queremos coca cola

¡y pastel también!

Oh, in case you were wondering....I'm 29 − AGAIN!

June 27, 2008

Is La Gringa going to live?

Yeah, now I know that I will, but these are some notes that I started before my vision got so bad that I gave up trying to blog.

Swollen, misshapen head.

Swollen, red, and watery eyes. One eye was completely swollen shut and the other one could only be open about halfway with great effort. My eyes were and still are sensitive to light.

Crusty, oozing, scabby skin and scalp.



Weakness, flu-like symptoms.

Swollen, tender lymph nodes in areas of the head and neck where I didn't even know there were lymph nodes until pain and Google helped me discover all of them.

Loss of appetite.

Periodic stabbing or shooting pains in the face, scalp, and ear areas. Sometimes felt like someone was jabbing me with a sharpened knitting needle. Other times...well, to get an idea, replace the bristles in your hairbrush with needles and whack yourself in the head with it periodically. I'm not exaggerating! I've read it described as electrifying pain. I'd agree with that.

Even my hair hurt! For several days, I could only brush the unaffected half of my head. The lightest touch on the right side of my face and scalp was excruciating.

Now my forehead looks like it was burned and it looks like I will have at least one scar.

If these are the decreased symptoms from starting the anti-viral therapy early and taking three pain medications, I can't even begin to imagine the untreated symptoms. I would have been suicidal.

Thank God for El Jefe! He did everything: cooked, cleaned, took care of the animals, searched all over town for the right medication. He's my hero.

A couple of funny things: He took pictures of me every day. When my eyes started swelling up, he took 3-4 photos a day, even labeled them with the time of day. Heheheh...no, you aren't going to see them. Another thing was that every morning, he would tell me how much better I looked − LIES! I'd stumble into the bathroom and look in the mirror and say, "What are you looking at? Look at me! I look like I've been in a car wreck!" Oh well, it was sweet of him to say so.

We've been having periodic power outages and internet problems so I'll finish this another day.

June 26, 2008

La Gringa is back, sort of

Suzanne, from At Home with the Farmer's wife and her photo blog The Farmer's Wife, sent me this cartoon to cheer me up. It worked! It's not often that you see Honduras and chihuahuas mentioned in cartoons.

By the way, Hondurans (and other Hispanic nationalities) don't like being mistaken for Mexicans. There is a lot of national rivalry there.

My brain is exploding with things I want to tell you about − in addition to shingles, that is. Headaches, light sensitivity, and numb fingers may make that slow going. Do you want to read about shingles?

June 18, 2008

Kick a girl when she's down

My numb and tingly fingers from the Ulnar Tunnel Syndrome were worrisome and were really getting me down. I can't say that I've seen any improvement, but now they are the last thing on my mind.

So what is this magic pain relief for UTS? Why, get SHINGLES and that intensely painful viral disease will make you forget all about UTS!

I'm trying to joke to keep from crying but shingles is no laughing matter. If you are like I was, you've probably heard of shingles (a strange name) but thought it had to do with dry skin or something like that. After much research, I'm now an expert on the disease. It's actually a virus related to chicken pox that attacks the nerves in one area of the body. In my case it is in the forehead and scalp. Revenge of the chicken pox has hit me hard, affecting both my right ear and both eyes, both of which can have very serious and permanent complications.

I'll have to write more about shingles and my doctor experience later. Right now I'm in excruciating pain, one eye is completely swollen shut and the other will be soon. I can't wear my contact lenses and I'm leaning in about 6" from the screen to type this. I'm going to be completely out of commission for awhile.

I have received some guest blogs that I will be posting as soon as I can see better so if you have sent one, please don't think that I don't appreciate it. If you have emailed me and haven't received an answer, please have patience or try again in a week or two.

In the meantime, you can probably entertain yourself for hours by visiting my Amazon wishlist and picking out get-well presents for me. ;-D

Click below:

My Amazon.com Wish List

June 17, 2008

A croissant shape does not a croissant make

Honduran croissant
I'm not sure where El Jefe bought these "croissants." I was pretty excited to see them but as soon as I picked up one, I knew it was not really a croissant. They had a soft, fluffy, airy, Wonder bread-like texture − a lot like Burger King's breakfast croissant. They made a good sandwich, but it was definitely not a buttery, flaky croissant.

Nice try, though.

Honduran croissant

June 16, 2008

Will you be my bride?

Here we have yet another guest blog from Leslie (my new bestest friend) who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras during 2000-2002. Besides volunteering in Honduras, Leslie has also worked in Angola and is currently working in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Her blog is Back in One Piece.

Map La Esperanza, Intibucá, HondurasSomething I’m sure many Americans living abroad have to deal with is requests for help in going to that land of opportunities, Gringolandia, los EEUU… USA. On at least a monthly basis while living in La Esperanza, I would get a request from someone friend or complete stranger − for some sort of assistance in getting that person to the US.

The request was usually for help in getting people to the US legally. At one point word got out that if an American citizen wrote a letter of support for a visa applicant, the visa would be granted. That might have been policy at one point, but it certainly wasn’t in 2000. Explaining that it would absolutely do no good, I would often refuse to write the letter, much to the dismay and anger of the solicitor!

Every so often, I would get a request from someone to help them get to the US illegally. There were several Cuban doctors working in Intibucá province, doing two years of medical service in areas where there were no doctors. I struck up a friendship with several of them since their house was the best place for dancing in La Esperanza.

One day, Alfredo (not his real name) showed up at my house with a flower in his hand. He was very nervous and after awkward conversation, asked for my hand in marriage. This was strange because our friendship was nothing other than platonic − in fact, he was dating a friend of mine and he was over twice my age. He explained that the end of his two years was approaching and there was no way he could go back to Cuba. He was very opposed to the regime and the best way for him to stay was apparently to marry me and go to the US. I politely turned him down and frankly he seemed relieved. He did find a Honduran woman to marry and ended up staying in Honduras.

Early in my service I was sought out by a man who was trying to establish an organic farm on the outskirts of La Esperanza. Pablo (not his real name) was very dedicated to organic farming and wanted to open up an educational center on his property so he could teach other farmers the same techniques. He asked me to help him develop a plan to sell his organic vegetables in the famous La Esperanza market. I thought it was a great idea and we went to work.

After about two months of slow work, Pablo came to my house and told me he wanted to ask me for a favor. “Well, you know how hard it is to make it here in Honduras, the farm isn’t going well… so I was hoping you could lend me US$3,000 so I pay a coyote to go to the US mojado.”

I was shocked and disappointed. Here was someone who had a good idea and apparently the drive to make it happen and he wanted to go to the US through a potentially dangerous coyote so he could work, most likely, some menial job. I told him “no” in no uncertain terms, but I was curious as to why he would leave his family and farm. I asked him what he could do with $3,000 in Honduras. “Oh, I could really get my farm started, start a real business.” To me it didn’t make a lot of sense − why try to raise $3,000 to risk it on a dangerous trip to the US when he could raise $3,000 to get a business started in La Esperanza? He seemed to think his money would be infinitesimally multiplied in the US.

I wished him luck in his decision but really tried to discourage him from making the trip. We set up a meeting for the next month to look at how the organic market stand was going. I went to his farm on the scheduled day and found his wife and two young sons alone. “Se fue para los unite.” (He left for the US.) I asked how he managed to get the money, and she said that he paid the coyote $1,000 up front and then would pay the remainder once he had been in the US and was working.

I still visited his wife over the next few months. She said that he had managed to pay off the coyote and was working washing dishes in a restaurant in my home town of Houston, TX. She hoped to join him after a year.

Leslie, you are an angel for helping me out with these great stories. Leslie's other tales from the small town of La Esperanza, Honduras, are Telecom and snail mail in La Esperanza and The Post Office Lady wants contact lenses.

If you would like to submit a guest blog article, it will be greatly appreciated by me and my two bum fingers. Send it to me at my email address in the "About me" section at the top of the page. Photos are welcomed, too. Don't worry about formatting or spelling. You can send it as a text file or just include the text in your email.

June 15, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day in Honduras - June 2008

Etlinger elatior, torch gingerCoral Etlinger elatior

This is my June entry in the Garden Bloggers Bloom Day for La Ceiba, Honduras. Luckily I took the photos and wrote most of the article last month, since I'm a little handicapped right now with ulnar tunnel syndrome. Just to keep it legal, I cross my heart and swear that all of these plants are still blooming in June!

It's wonderful to have such long-lasting blooming tropical plants but we don't have many of that thrill of new and different blooms each month that northern gardeners do. Oh, except for the orchids.

pale yellow Ixora
Ixora is a very common shrub in La Ceiba. Both the normal sized and the dwarf, though I see more of the dwarf. For some reason, both kinds are usually planted no more than 6 inches apart and the poor little shrubs always seem to be sheared into a boxed hedge at the first sign of blooms. These were started from a cutting that someone gave me. I like the pale, subdued color of this one.

Etlingera elatior, common name Torch Ginger
Etlingera elatior, common name Torch Ginger
Etlingera elatior, common name Torch Ginger. Here in Honduras, the pink Etlinger is called Bastón de la Reina (cane of the queen) and coral Etlinger is called Bastón de la Emperador (cane of the emperor). They are of the Zingiberaceae (ginger) family and the flowers rise from the ground on their own stalks. These blooms are a favorite of hummingbirds. These plants get HUGE! Some of the flowers are at eye level for me (about 5' tall) and the plants themselves are at least 15' tall.

Parrot's beak, heliconia rostrata
Heliconia rostrata (Parrot's beak) is a huge plant that spreads like crazy. We are going to have to be a little more stern with this plant.

Bougainvillea is called Napoleon here in La Ceiba. It is a staple of most tropical gardens as it is such a spectacular bloomer. This one serves just the purpose that I intended in that it obscures the tall concrete muro (fence) and provides a glorious view through the family and breakfast room windows. El Jefe was lucky enough to spot a toucan on the bougainvillea the other morning as he was reading the newspaper and drinking his coffee. He wasn't lucky enough to return with the camera in time to get a photo. Bougainvillea is another hummingbird favorite. I found several nests in the bougainvillea that I'll show you another time.

Red ginger, alpinia purpurata
Alpinia purpurata, common name red ginger, grows to about 10 feet (3 m.) and blooms year round. This is another staple of the tropical garden. It's a carefree plant that needs nothing in the way of attention other than occasionally trimming off the dead blooms and some drastic cutting back to keep in bounds.

Pink gingerPink Ginger. Both this and the red one above bloom year round. They never even take a pause.

Heliconia latispathaHeliconia latispatha is the scourge of my garden. Not that I don't like the flowers. I do! But it is so invasive. The original 3-4 plants were given to us by a neighbor and we've been digging them out for the past couple of years to no avail. They take over everything. Don't plant unless you have acres to fill!

You can see more photos of these and other plants in my garden here. There is also a nice slide show of bloom photos from my garden in June 2007 here.


June 14, 2008

Remembering 1950 La Ceiba

The following guest blog article is from Ed, a retired banker and motorcycle service technician (interesting combination!). Ed is happy in retirement now as a competitive rifle shooter attending shooting matches, and also serves as a board member of a local medical clinic in West Virginia.

Ed lived in La Ceiba, Honduras, for three years starting when he was 14 years of age. He and his sister have considered visiting Honduras again, but he says, "The more research I did plus your blog made me realize that the memory I have of what La Ceiba was then is a far cry from what it is today. I'm reminded of Thomas Wolf's dictum...."

Map showing the dock, old railroad tracks and the Mazapan area.
Map and photos are current day

This will be a brief recollection of La Ceiba through the eyes of a fourteen year old boy in 1950.

My three year adventure in Honduras began when my family and I boarded the Vaccaro lines' SS Contessa in New Orleans. The Contessa was a banana boat that plied the route between New Orleans, Havana and La Ceiba. The voyage took about a week or so.

The family move to Honduras was occasioned by my stepfather accepting a position with the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company in La Ceiba (now Dole). Our stay lasted three years − three truly sublime years of my life.

Standard allowed us to bring the family car, a '49 Nash. Overkill in a town with a 15 mph speed limit and all of one mile of paved road that ran from San Isidro (main street) out to the airport. The rest of the streets in town were dirt and gravel.

There was one gasoline station (Esso) located east of the central Plaza (parque) that sold gas for the outrageous price of 75 cents a gallon; three times higher than in the US! The gas pump was a relic from the 1930s. On top sat a large glass cylinder graduated in gallons into which one cranked the pump handle until the gas level in the cylinder filled to the desired amount wanted. The hose and cut off valve were inserted into the cars tank, and the valve opened, and down flowed the gas filling your tank, unless, of course, one had over estimated the amount needed to fill it tank and the rest overflowed onto the ground. No convenient auto cutoff valve.

I'm getting ahead of the story.

Dole pineapples packed for shipmentThe ship tied up alongside the huge pier that jutted quite a ways into the Gulf. Much longer than the length of the ship; 300 feet, and had plenty of room fore and aft of the ship. The size of the pier is hard to convey but, the narrow gauge railroad (3ft) locomotive and several boxcars were easily contained within the length of it. It was big! Just off the end of the pier were the prison with guards and watch towers and rifles.

Company execs met us ashore, and took us to our temporary housing. Our permanent house was being built and not yet finished. The trip down San Isidro and into the Mazapan zone (where all the gringos lived) was a bleak one. Some sidewalks, small mom and pop stores, very rundown, dusty dirt streets. And most ominous, uniformed policia carrying rifles standing at all corners giving the us the evil eye.

The summer heat rolled over and engulfed us. It was going to be hot for a long time. On the ship, there was always a good breeze, even in the cabins through open ports. On land the heat was oppressive. And in 1950, in Honduras, air conditioning was unheard of. Even the Hotel Gran Paris couldn't boast of A/C. It did have a swimming pool within its surrounds.

Building in Mazapan area, La Ceiba, HondurasInto the Mazapan district, our temporary housing and all of the Company properties were pointed out to us. The one room schoolhouse (that I attended) close by, the commissary (run by the Company) where one could buy almost anything. The Company owned-and-run ranch supplied beef to the commissary. The commissary was open to the public, but the 'natives' were too poor to shop there.

Company employees were fed in the communal mess hall (until permanent housing was ready) which was a large wooden building with many many screened windows and shutters that could be lowered to cover during storm season. There was a small swimming pool adjacent, and I spent a lot of time there.

To picture where our house was, if one stood in front of the Hotel Paris and followed the street to the gated Mazapan, and kept walking about a mile you'd be at our house. On the left, down a crushed stone drive lined by several palm trees stood our little house. It was built on a concrete slab on top of 8" by 8" piles. Painted white with green trim. I'd guess about 1000 sq ft. Two bedrooms, bath with flush toilet (I don't remember having to not flush the toilet paper) and our own septic tank. The yard sported the usual shrubs and grass − really quite attractive. The under house area had walk around clearance and a space to park the car during the rainy season.

pineapples at the Dole plantNo telephones and no TV. You supplied your own entertainment with visits to the neighbors, card games and parties (canasta was big). Endless parties and daily sundowners held off boredom and supplied an opportunity to gossip. Gossip was VERY popular.

Thank you very much, Ed, for sharing this story with the Blogicito readers. We would love to hear more about the olden days if you or any of the readers would like to share more stories.

If you would like to submit
a guest blog article, it will be greatly appreciated by me and my two bum fingers. Send it to me at my email address in the "About me" section at the top of the page. Photos are welcomed, too. Don't worry about formatting or spelling. You can send it as a text file or just include the text in your email.

June 13, 2008

Remembering Hurricane Fifi

The following article is a guest blog from "Deena." Deena is a Hondureña who was born in Potrerillos, Cortés, Honduras. When the banana business started to go bad for her father, they moved and she grew up in the San Pedro Sula area with her six brothers and four sisters.

Deena left Honduras in 1989 and settled near Los Angeles, California. She has a 3 year old son. She says that she came to the states like many do with no papers, but was able to get a permit as a political asylee. Deena says that La Gringa's Blogicito is the closest she can get to Honduras, because she can only go if a family emergency arises. Two years ago her brother died and Deena visited Honduras for 9 days.

FiFi was a catastrophic hurricane which struck Honduras on Sept 18-19, 1974. Whole villages were swept away in landslides. Official estimates were that 8,000 people died. The majority of the country's banana crops were destroyed and approximately 40% of Honduras' cattle were drowned. One source states that Hurricane Fifi is considered the fourth deadliest hurricane in history.

North coast of Honduras, showing the areas mentioned in this article

I love rain, which used to be the soothing sound of my every day naps as a kid. Rainy days in Honduras are an inconvenience for others. It rains for days at a time and then it stops like nothing happened.

Back then, in the seventies, San Pedro Sula was just a small city. La Avenida Juan Pablo II did not existed the way we know it now, and all the colonias that were located down the avenida were not paved. When the rainy season was at its best, the streets would get flooded. For us kids, those were fun times to play in the water and the worse times to go to school. We had to carry our shoes (if you had any) and put them on when we got to school.

When Hurricane Fifi was announced, people just shrugged. As you readers know, Hondurans do not prepare for anything and the government can't care less. The reason is that there is nothing to prepare for, most Hondurans live day by day and payday to payday. So it rained for days and when the storm finally hit San Pedro, we woke up to a bare montaña Del Merendon.

The news had reported over the day that many people were homeless among other things, and that the city of Choloma had been wiped out. For weeks to come the topic of Choloma buried by mud populated the newspapers. People were not allowed to go past a certain point and rescue teams, merely volunteers, would go and dig in search of bodies. People talk about how a big hole was dug up and as the bodies were found they were piled up in this hole. The local authorities were afraid of an epidemic, so bodies were lit on fire. Only in Honduras you might think, and I will say yep!

To date things have not changed. As to the help Honduras got, you guessed it: it all went to the “corruptos”: Los militares, government officials, and the people with connections. That anyone got something, sure, if you bought it later in the flea market. I remember getting one shoe from the pair because things were thrown from the air by a helicopter. What happened to the other one, the world may never know.

There was a huge food shortage; my mom would take us with her in search of bananas. We used to walk all the way to la Lima, behind the airport of San Pedro sometimes we were lucky and others we came home with nothing. Many times we went to sleep with nothing in our stomachs and countless times we did not make it to school for the same reason.

That was then, now when I hear about catastrophes happening somewhere in the world I would rather give to the Red Cross. My reason is that someone, somewhere, will at least get an aspirin, a band aid or even a hug from one of these dedicated workers.

Thank you so much, Deena, for sharing this story with the Blogicito readers. I think that readers will enjoy reading more about the life of Catrachas and Catrachos if any of you Hondurans would like to share more stories!

If you would like to submit
a guest blog article, it will be greatly appreciated by me and my two bum fingers. Send it to me at my email address in the "About me" section at the top of the page. Photos are welcomed, too. Don't worry about formatting or spelling. You can send it as a text file or just include the text in your email.

June 12, 2008

More houses in El Porvenir, Honduras

house, El Porvenir, HondurasI'm still trying to keep my typing to a minimum, so I'll just offer these photos for your perusal. Not much change on the finger front yet.

house, El Porvenir, Honduras

house, El Porvenir, Honduras

house, El Porvenir, Honduras

house, El Porvenir, Honduras

house, El Porvenir, Honduras
Still begging

If you would like to submit a guest blog article, it will be greatly appreciated by me and my two bum fingers. Send it to me at my email address in the "About me" section at the top of the page. Photos are welcomed, too. Don't worry about formatting or spelling. You can send it as a text file or just include the text in your email.

June 11, 2008

The Post Office Lady wants contact lenses

The following article is a follow up guest blog from Leslie, a former Peace Corps worker in La Esperanza, Honduras, during 2000-2002. Leslie now lives and works in the Dominican Republic where you can find her at Back in One Piece. After reading her first guest post, I asked if she had ordered the contacts lenses for the postal worker as she requested. This is her reply:

Order contacts? No way! It came about thusly: I wear gas permeable (hard) contact lenses and one of them tore in half during my service, so I had my parents send me a new pair. The Post Office Ladies opened the package (of course) and asked me what it was. I told them and they immediately got excited. One Lady asked what I was going to do with my old pair. I said I would keep them in case I lost one of the new ones. She said, "Well, why don't you give them to me, so I can wear them?"

I explained that contact lenses were like glasses and tailored to the individual who wears them. Blank look... "But I've always wanted blue eyes," was her response. Again, I explained that my contact lenses were for vision only − my extremely poor vision, in fact − and that they would not change the color of her eyes at all. I told her that they would actually be very uncomfortable and cause her a lot of pain. She let it go. For about a week.

The next week she said that she heard you could order contact lenses on line for very cheap and would I please order her some. Now, like a lot of expats living overseas, I feel very uncomfortable when I am asked to do something like this. I hate buying something overseas knowing that I can get it for 10 times cheaper in the US, and I'm a nice person (so I think) and like to help out. However, I had been burned before with these types of favors, so I laid out my ground rules for helping people out.

I said that if she did all the work − told me EXACTLY what type she wanted, paid me in full in advance and excused me from all liability in the case of loss or dissatisfaction, then I would order them for her. She made a face and said, "Well, I don't want to pay in full." So I shook my head and said, "Sorry, can't do it then."

She tracked me down a day later and said she would pay in advance. Suddenly a thought occurred to me. "Do you even wear glasses?" I asked. "No." "Do you have a prescription? Have you visited an eye doctor?" "No." I then had to go through and explain the concept of contact lenses and how it was like going to a doctor an getting a prescription for medicine when you are sick − you have to know the right type to get for your eyes.

She wasn't happy with that and said, "Well, just order me what you have and that will be fine." I tried to explain that the US was very strict about medicine and prescriptions and you couldn't just walk into a pharmacy and get whatever you needed, like in Honduras. I again reiterated that I would not order anything without her herself doing the work to get it, certainly not without a prescription. This back-and-forth went for for several weeks until she realized I was serious and wouldn't do it on her conditions.

Thank you again, Leslie, for sending the blog article!

If you would like to submit a guest blog article, it will be greatly appreciated by me and my two bum fingers
. Send it to me at my email address in the "About me" section at the top of the page. Photos are welcomed, too. Don't worry about formatting or spelling. You can send it as a text file or just include the text in your email.

June 10, 2008

La linea está mala

The following article is a guest blog from "Gringamadrina". She told me a little about her relationship with Honduras:

I made my first trip to Honduras in 1988 as a patron of Save The Children, and that journey was a life changing event for my husband and me. As a social worker, I had seen plenty of poverty and hardship in the United States, but nothing had ever prepared me for the brutal and stark conditions of rural Honduran poverty.

From there, things just mushroomed. As of now, we have several "godchildren" (ahijados) whom we support so that they can study. All together, we have three in university, one in high school, and two more about to enter high school. We also have several other families who we help in lesser ways. I've been incredibly lucky to forge enduring friendships with a group of Honduran teachers, a number of medical people, and many, many people in the communities. It really makes me count my blessings to see the challenges that these folks have to overcome every day just to live their lives.

In addition to trips to see "our kids", I've twice gone down as an interpreter for Water 1st, an amazing organization that works with rural communities in Honduras and elsewhere to help them realize their dream of having safe water in their lives. Water 1st's projects are sustainable, grass-roots projects because they are conceived and built by the community with help from outside resources.

Here is Gringamadrina's article:

The guest blog from Leslie, former La Esperanza Peace Corps volunteer, had me smiling. Change has surely come to even the most remote corners of Honduras with the advent of the cell phone.

Map La Esperanza, Intibucá, HondurasWhen I first visited La Esperanza and the surrounding communities of Intibucá back in 1988, the only way to make a phone call was a visit to the Hondutel office. Hondutel had an absolute monopoly on phone service everywhere and, if my experiences were typical, a switchboard operator's job could be very lucrative.

I'd drag myself into the office at the end of a long, exhausting day and plunk down the phone number of my beloved back in the States. With a big smile and my best Spanish, I'd ask the operator to make the call. "La linea está mala" (the line is bad) was the invariable answer.

After a few sad trips back to the little hotel where I always stayed, I learned that the miraculous solution to the bad line problem lay in folding some lempiras into the piece of paper with the phone number! Then, it was all over but waiting for your turn in one of the three wooden phone cabinets.

The man sitting in front of the old-fashioned switchboard (I never saw a woman working there back then) would painstakingly read the number to a person in the Central Office (Tegus?) and, when the number was finally reached, he would shout out the number of the phone cabinet you were to enter. Conversations were always difficult as the quality of the connection was miserable and echoey. Plus, of course, the Hondurans seemed to think that they had to talk loud enough for the person on the other end of the line to hear them without the actual use of the phone!

Even so, there were times when no amount of money could solve the very real problem of an poorly maintained, overburdened system and the wait could stretch into days. Then, when the American voice answered on the other end, it was the sweetest connection in the world!

Thank you so much, Gringamadrina, for being a guest blogger here at the Blogicito.

If you would like to submit a guest blog article, it will be greatly appreciated by me and my two bum fingers. Send it to me at my email address in the "About me" section at the top of the page. Photos are welcomed, too.

June 9, 2008

Let's talk about…the weather!

The following article is a guest blog from Todd, a former Minnesota resident who now lives in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. Todd recently resuscitated his entertaining blog after a short absence. In addition to his job for the English-language Honduras This Week newspaper, Todd writes "about life in Honduras and beyond, pop culture, politics, current events, etc." in his blog, Todd Rules.

Tegucigalpa, HondurasView of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 2002

LG put the call out to her 'peeps' to scare up a guest blogger or two, and yours truly took the bait! I've been a fan of her blog for a couple of years and, like many others, hope the numbness and tingling issues that are causing her to slow down resolve soon. (NO! I don't care if your hand hurts….now TYPE!!)

In the meantime, as a fellow ex-pat now living in Honduras (Tegucigalpa) and with the rainy season in full swing, I think it might be worth talking about the weather here in the original "Banana Republic."

I was born (Minnesota) and raised (Minnesota and South Dakota) in the Midwest US. The four distinct seasons were a way of life and influenced everything we did, from how we dressed, how we traveled, our moods, our yards, how we cooked, etc. To this day, split pea and ham soup and late fall are forever and inextricably linked to each other, as far as I'm concerned. The street I live on here is unpaved (another subject – and a sore one) and currently very muddy. I always associate mud and puddles to April and May, when the snow is melting and everything seems wet and mushy.

Being in Honduras for a year now, I have experienced my first, full 'seasonal' year. And it's true: Honduras has two seasons, the rainy season and the dry season. Yes, there are variations within those two, but, by and large, it comes down to two.

Yes, I did miss the snow this past winter, and I didn't think I would. Walking around on Christmas in shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops was a fun change of pace, but Christmas without snow seemed very strange. Interestingly, it all came flooding back to me that in years past, I wanted the snow and cold to go away after New Year's Day, and I cursed the same snow of Christmas for at least the whole of February and March. Something tells me, as time goes on, I will do just fine without another Minnesota winter! A week in Colorado skiing is another thing.

Tegucigalpa, HondurasHere is what I love about the weather here in Honduras: in a matter of a week, the dry, brown hills surrounding Tegucigalpa are now a beautiful green, as is everything else – and it'll stay that way for months. A neighbor has a bunch of mature jasmine bushes in her backyard and the scent just made its way across the fence. I smelled freshly mowed grass yesterday before it started to rain! There is some sort of banana or plantain tree out back and two huge bunches will be adequately hydrated and delicious before too long.

So – let's talk about the weather. If you're from someplace else, how have you adjusted to Honduras' climate and weather? Do you have a favorite time of year, meteorologically speaking? Are there distinctions about the weather here worthy of discussion?

Thank you, Todd, for taking some of your busy writing time to be a guest blogger here at the Blogicito.

I'll just start out the conversation by saying that my favorite weather is rainy season. Here in La Ceiba, we are supposedly in the dry season but we've been getting some wet weather lately and I love it. As much as I've complained about the humidity, I've notice when the humidity gets "low", maybe 50-60%, my skin feels dry. I'm not sure how this adjustment came about since I was used to the very dry, non-humid climate of Dallas, Texas. I still like to make soups and stews when the weather turns a little "chillier" and I welcome that cooler weather, but I don't miss weeks and months of cold weather at all!

If you would like to submit a guest blog article, it will be greatly appreciated by me and my two bum fingers. Send it to me at my email address in the "About me" section at the top of the page. Photos are welcomed, too. Don't worry about formatting or spelling. You can send it as a text file or just include the text in your email.

June 7, 2008

Telecom and snail mail in La Esperanza, Honduras

The following is a guest blog from Leslie who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras during 2000-2002. Besides volunteering in Honduras, Leslie has also worked in Angola and is currently working in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Her blog is Back in One Piece.

La Esperanza, Intibuca, Honduras

The day our Peace Corps training group got their assignments was the most anticipated day of the training cycle. Our fate for the next two years would be decided − would we be sent high up the mountains in Gracias or down in the valley of Jesús de Otoro? Would we have to take one day worth of bumpy school bus rides to get to the air conditioned movie theater in Tegus (capital city Tegucigalpa) for an escape or would it be two days?

Map La Esperanza, Intibucá, HondurasI was considered one of the luckiest in the group − I was sent to La Esperanza, Intibucá to work as a small business volunteer. In addition to the great weather and beautiful location, La Esperanza was considered to be a good site for Peace Corps because it was a lujo (luxury) site − a quick trip to Tegus, electricity and the Supermercado La Canasta with its random selection of peanut butter and macaroni and cheese for when we could not stomach another plato típico.

Like a lot of other smaller Honduran cities in 2000, La Esperanza did not have an effective telephone system. My first week in my new apartment I naively asked my landlady how I could get a phone line installed in my new place. She laughed and told me to get in line for a phone that wouldn’t work. The phone system in place in La Esperanza was so old that they could not create any new numbers − in order to get a line, one would have to wait for Hondutel to finally shut off service for someone who refused to pay their bill. Once this happened, the first person in line had to pay the balance on the bill and then the number would be theirs.

But having a phone line wasn’t as glamorous as it sounded. The lines were in such bad shape that you could only make outgoing calls within the city of La Esperanza − on a good day you could call Siguatepeque and if you were really lucky you could call Tegus or San Pedro Sula on the first try. I got used to it − I enjoyed writing letters to friends back home telling them how I used telegrams as my primary means of communication outside town.

Suddenly, in 2001 Hondutel announced that it was finally finished with the new mythical planta that would totally revamp La Esperanza’s phone system. Sure enough, dozens of families and businesses were the proud owners of new, debt-free phone numbers. Even more important, the internet age came to La Esperanza. Instead of asking me to give basic accounting lessons, teachers started asking if I could design an e-mail class for their business students. The thieving ladies at the post office asked me to order them some contact lenses on-line because they heard that you could get them cheaper through the internet. (More about this in a separate article.)

There were three ladies working at the La Esperanza post office. I had an apartado postal (post office box) there that I shared with another volunteer. I never got too many packages (sniff, sniff) but the other volunteers in the area were constantly complaining about items being "liberated" from the packages. It was difficult to say at what point of the chain the thefts would occur, but we always suspected the Post Office Ladies. When ever the women got a sack full of mail, they would take their sweet time in distributing it − pure torture for us volunteers who looked forward to the weekly delivery to hear news from friends and family. We would stop around to see if any mail would arrive − and SEE the sack full of mail sitting on the sorting table − and they would look us in the eyes and say, "No, no mail. Won't come for a while."

The most flagrant violation was when a fellow volunteer had to cut her volunteer service short for health reasons. She had been expecting a care package from her family with some sentimental items, so she asked me to pick it up for her and resend it to her. I told the Post Office Ladies this and kept asking for it. Weeks and eventually months passed and I gave it up for lost.

About a year later, a volunteer friend and I went to pick up our mail. For some reason the three Ladies were gone and had left the custodian in charge. He was a nice guy and said, "Well, I don't know how to read so come back here and see if you can find your mail." We RAN in there and found a stack of mail that had been undelivered for several weeks. Worst of all, I saw the package my friend had asked me to pick up over a year ago − opened and completely ransacked, complete with empty chocolate wrappers left inside. We would have said something and called them on it, but didn't want to press our luck. I just took the package with me and hoped they would notice and get the message.

As fate would have it, September 11th and the US postal anthrax scare happened shortly thereafter. We were very confused to see the Post Office Ladies wearing latex gloves and masks one day. I asked why they were wearing them expecting to hear about some flu going around, but they said that they were scared of all the mail coming from the US and terrorism. (Because surely the terrorists were going to strike sleepy La Esperanza next!) My quick-thinking friend said, "Oh yes! You should be VERY careful! Don't open anything or you could get deathly sick! And we wouldn't want that to happen..."

I finished Peace Corps in 2002 and returned for a short visit in 2004. Imagine my surprise when, on a day hike to Cerro Los Hoyos up the mountain that was completely free of electricity in 2000, a local Lenca farmer whipped out his cell phone and made a call.

Thanks, Leslie, for being a guest blogger here at the Blogicito. Let's give her a round of applause for the great article!

If you would like to submit a guest blog article, it will be greatly appreciated by me and my two bum fingers. Send it to me at my email address in the "About me" section at the top of the page. Photos are welcomed, too.

June 6, 2008

It's the funny bone, but not so funny

hand - ulnar tunnel syndromeNumb and tingly to the right of that line

Pay attention bloggers and blog readers! La Gringa may save you from a serious medical problem − seriously!

I have diagnosed myself to have a funny bone problem. It isn't so funny, though.

What I think I have is called ulnar tunnel syndrome or cubital tunnel syndrome. The ulnar nerve, which runs from the spinal column down the length of the arm to the outer two fingers, gets pinched in the area of the elbow.

Image: Medical University of South Carolina

The result is two numb and tingly fingers, the pinkie and the ring finger. In my case the whole outer part of my left hand feels numb as well. It's constant and it is painful. Typing feels like I'm tapping on a bed of needles.

Ulnar tunnel syndrome can be caused by an accident, certain throwing sports, or weight lifting, but it is often caused by repeated pressure on the elbow. In my case, it was probably caused by...what else?...leaning on my left elbow while my right hand clicks and clacks through cyberspace, your blogs, and my bottomless pit of an email inbox.

I had the same symptoms once before. Can you guess when? It was a few months after we first got home internet access after four years without it. I was rediscovering the world day and night! I researched my symptoms at the time but had forgotten the name. That's why I sounded mysterious about the problem. I just couldn't remember the name. The last time it went away after a few weeks and I promptly and thankfully forgot about it.

This time, it's worse. It's really painful to type. I make so many errors because those two fingers feel like big fat salchichas (sausages). Every single time I type 'any', it comes out 'zany.' I'm getting lots of extraneous v's, z's, and s's and that big fat pinkie keeps HITTING THE CaPS lock liKE THis. They aren't really big and fat; they just feel that way.

My funny bone is telling me something. It's telling me to get off the damn computer so that's what I'm going to do.....Well, as much as I can anyway. You know that I'm an addict, don't you?

Here's the plan:

I'm not going to answer email for awhile and − oh, horrors! − not going to reply to comments. I'm going to start taking ibuprofen which is supposed to help with the inflammation and do some stretching exercises. Wish me luck! I don't know what I'll do if it doesn't go away on its own. I'm scared to death to have surgery.

If I get some guest blogs, I'll post them. If I don't and I just can't stand it anymore, I'll occasionally post some pictures or something that I vcan ( <− see what I mean?) do mostly with my mouse asnd my right hand. I'm going to try to go cold turkey and just not even open my email every day, because that is my downfall every morning. So, dear readers, my advice to you is to make a concerted effort to NOT lean on your elbow(s). That simple tip could save you from UTS! To learn more about Ulnar Tunnel Syndrome in simple terms, check out this page: Ulnar Tunnel Syndrome - U. of Missouri

To read more detailed, but still easy to understand information about Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, see this:

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome - Orthopod

eMedicine reports that CTS (UTS) is the second most common compressive neuropathy after Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. They also state that it affects men 3-8 times as often as women, though I read other sources which stated that it was more common in women.

For all things Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, including a public forum, see:


If you spend a lot of time on the computer, I really recommend that you read this page and perhaps develop some good habits now to prevent getting UTS:

Ulnar Tunnel Syndrome - Self Care

Get off that elbow!

June 5, 2008

Hello? Are you there?

Honduran chihuahua pupsOn the outside looking in

My question about why some bloggers don't respond to comments turned into something of a hot topic. It was taken up by Theresa in Mexico and other bloggers. Theresa and I both received some enlightening comments.

It seems that some bloggers just didn't see the importance of it or didn't think that readers go back to read the comments. Some new bloggers weren't aware when people left comments. Others felt that there wasn't much to say sometimes other than "thank you for commenting" and they worried that that would get boring. Some worry that they can't think of anything witty or clever with which to reply. And lots of us just don't always have the time and don't want to turn our blog into a job.

All good reasons and I've felt the same way many times. I certainly understand that not every comment needs a reply from the author nor is it expected by the reader. We all have to do what is right for us based on our own personal style. I don't think (at least that I'm aware) there are any rules of blogging.

I am sorry that the original question was twisted a little, sometimes through misunderstanding, but on at least one blog, a real spin was put on the question which sounded a little defensive. :-) Neither Theresa or I were suggesting that it is a requirement to reply to every question or that our feelings were hurt if a blogger doesn't reply to a comment, or that any blogger should feel guilty for whatever choices they make. That's just silly, as is talking about bloggers keeping score. I think most people agree that most of the time, they don't expect a reply or even return to read the comments to see if there is one. I think that most bloggers agree that it gets harder and harder to do the more popular your blog gets.

We were also both referring to bloggers posting a comment on their own blog, not sending a private email to the commenter, nor were we asking why readers do or do not leave comments. Lots of good comments were made about time constraints that I can really identify with. I'm getting to the point where I'm going to have to make some decisions about just what I can and can't do anymore.

said this: "I think a blog is a communicative social and interactive tool, if you are not going to reply to comments, you are closing that door. If you don't want to reply, then turn off comments altogether. Just my humble opinion of course." There is some expectation of interaction with a blog, especially when someone is writing about their own life. The ease of interaction is what sets apart a blog from a website.

I can't define when a comment should get a reply because there are so many variables. I doubt that most of my blog comments are reply-worthy but I certainly admire the people whose are! If I had any particular blogs in mind, it was some newer or lesser known blogs who aren't getting any or hardly any comments. It just seemed odd to me but I think thanks to the responses I now have a better understanding.

I thought of a couple of analogies that might help to explain what I was writing about. The first was those commercials on TV were the cell signal gets cut off. The person who has made a joke or asked a question is panicking because the other person isn't saying anything. If you give your opinion about something to someone over the telephone and there is dead air in response, don't you wonder if they even heard you, they aren't interested, they think you are an idiot, or just what the situation is? "Hello? Are you still there?" is the natural response. And, please, I'm not referring to "Great post" or "Good pictures" or "Love your blog" comments. I'm referring to a comment that really adds information or a different viewpoint to the subject at hand and deserves at least an acknowledgment in my book.

Another analogy is, say, a party. A blogger is like the host or hostess. You may get 15 comments over the evening saying how nice your house is or thanking you for the invitation, but common courtesy requires that you respond. You can't always think of something clever to say, but you can't just greet their comment with a blank stare, can you? Oops. Well, maybe some can.

Let's say at that same party, a dozen or so people are standing around discussing something. Since they have the benefit of seeing and hearing all the other people when they speak, they see a smile, a nod of agreement, a surprised look, a frown of disapproval, or hear a giggle or a hmmmph! or an opposing viewpoint. They get some feedback. Commenters don't have that unless the blogger replies.

Here again, let me stress that I think bloggers should do whatever fits their personality. Different blogs have different purposes. If someone wants to put an article out there and doesn't care to have a dialog with their readers, that is what he should do and not feel guilty about it.

However, the resounding theme from readers is that bloggers like to get comments and readers like to get replies. So maybe it's a situation where you gotta give a little love to get a little love. ;-)

Most expatriate blogs are more impersonal than a party (but less impersonal than a magazine, Bob!), so it isn't a perfect analogy. Blogs can be as impersonal as the author wants to make them and that is for each author to decide, but for me, greeting the readers who visit and participating in the resulting conversations that go on in the comments section is half of the fun. I am very happy for the friends that I've made over the years and I doubt that I would have gotten to know the people I have if I had seemed unapproachable.

Hey, if someone considers himself a magazine writer or only wants to converse with a select few, that's fine with me. As I said to start with, I was just curious why some bloggers never respond to any comments.

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