March 31, 2009

Ways people will know you are a gringo

gringo sightingGringo sighting - no doubt about it
and it's not just the hair color

Ways to know you are a gringo:

gringos, La Ceiba, HondurasYou try to carry a backpack into a store.

You carry a water bottle.

You drink water for any reason when sweetened fruit juice or sugary soda is available.

You wear shorts (the exception being skin-tight micro short-shorts) or otherwise dress casually in town.

Zona Viva, La Ceiba, HondurasYou − gasp! − don't dress up for Pizza Hut.

You wear summer clothes when it’s 60-70°F (16-21°C) outside instead of wearing a ski jacket and knit cap.

You don't wear skin-tight polyester clothes.

You smile at people on the street or clerks in stores.

You don't mind using your cellphone minutes to call someone back.

You listen to your voice mail and return calls.

meat on the counterYou think that a bathroom will have toilet paper.

You abstain from any of the following: greasy snacks, sugary drinks, or − gasp! − any type of meat.

You don’t know what a baleada is.

You drink your coffee without sugar.

Meat in San Juan Pueblo, HondurasYou think that, cooked or uncooked, meat should be refrigerated.

You ask directions from only one person.

You leave appliances plugged in when you aren't using them.

You’re in a rush or look for a schedule or gasp! expect that the presence of a schedule means that there is a schedule.

Inspired by Erin Taylor in Chile

March 30, 2009

20 Tortillas

corn tortillas, HondurasCorn tortillas

Tortillas are a staple of life here in Honduras. Both corn tortillas and flour tortillas (vastly different) have their proponents. Others prefer guineo (banana) or plátano (plantain) as their "staff of life."

The following video was taken at the now defunct La Palapa Mexicana restaurant here in La Ceiba. It was one of my favorite restaurants, but I dawdled too long before doing a review!

Watch a pro form and cook 20 tortillas in less than 5 minutes.

Try to ignore the cough.

Related articles:

How to make flour tortillas, with recipe and step by step photos

Must have tortillas

"Whole grain" tortillas

My tortillas are better than yours

March 27, 2009

Will poor people grow vegetables?

Bananas, La Ceiba, HondurasLa Gringa's banana harvest

Gentle readers,

LG needs your help. I would really like to get a conversation going on this topic: Will poor people grow vegetables? Of course I know that some poor people grow vegetables for themselves or for sale. What I am asking is whether teaching the very poor in Honduras (or other Central American countries) to grow and eat vegetables is a viable and sustainable means of improving the health of their children? Will they have the means to garden? Will they continue after the first crop? Will they learn to cook and eat healthier?

The email below is one of many I have received on this subject over the years. I told Danise that I just don't know the answer to her questions. To those people who have written, I've given some gardening advice, and pushed organics and composting since I know that the poor are not likely to be able to afford fertilizers and chemicals. Only one person has ever written back to give me an update and I really don't know if his project has been successful or continued over the years.

I frankly have my doubts, mainly because vegetables just aren't a big part of the diet in Honduras, except for bananas, platanos, yuca, and cabbage. Though unhealthy north American fast food has become very popular, healthier foods have not. Even restaurants often will have no vegetables other than the ones mentioned above.

Moon and Stars watermelon, HondurasEven backyard crops have to be protected from thieves and wandering chickens, pigs, and cows. The soil is poor in many areas. During the dry season, access to water may be difficult to impossible for some. During the rainy season, crops can be lost in heavy rains. Access to composting materials is abundant, but may be beyond the reach of someone with no way to transport more than a bucketful of materials at a time. They very poor may not be able to buy seeds, a shovel or gardening fork.

papayas, La Ceiba, HondurasOne couple in Panamá, who tried with no success, decided that teaching gardening was actually starting in the middle of the process. After discussing the project with elementary school principals, they concluded that first children must learn the 'why' of eating vegetables, then learn 'how' to prepare vegetables so that they taste good, and then finally learn the 'how' of gardening. The principals disappointingly projected that it would take two to three generations before any change in the culture would take place.

On the other hand, gardening can be an enjoyable and rewarding pastime. Learning to do something new and productive is always beneficial and good for self-esteem. Time is an asset that many unemployed or underemployed people have, especially housewives who can also enlist the help of their children in the garden, which can be a wonderful learning experience for them, in addition to improving their health.

Corn crop, La Ceiba,HondurasBackyard corn crop

Here is the email:
My name is Danise. I came across your site doing some research. I have been working with a ministry in Honduras for about 3 years now and just came home a couple of days ago from my last trip. So the names of the towns, etc. caught my eye instantly when I read a few of your blogs. I fly into San Pedro Sula each time and then have a drive to the mountains where we stay.

The people are of course very poor and malnourished and we do many things to help them from clothes, soaps, toothbrushes and other donations. The last time I had a doctor and nurse with my team and we set up a clinic to provide some much needed health care for these people. Hundreds of people walked to see the doctor and we treated everything from lice, and scabies to pneumonia and starvation.

One mother carried her baby over an hour one way in the hot sun. This baby at four months old had only been feed the water drained off the rice the mother prepared for her other children once a day. So saving this little one's life was where we started, providing formula for the baby and food for the family, along with continued support for them. But this is just one family of many facing the same situation.

So one of my main concerns is that these families are so poor and do not have a way to provide even basic food for themselves. I saw you had gardening as an interest and that is one thing I am trying to do research on. For example what crops may grow, what seeds would be beneficial etc.

I know the altitude, climate and conditions are so very different that where I currently live in Michigan. But my next trip is scheduled to return in June to Honduras and if there was any way I could provide seeds, or train these families to grow even something simple it really is a step in the right direction. Do you have any advice, information or thoughts on what direction I could head with this idea?

I also know that the mountains and the coast are going to vary but I thought if you had any suggestions it was a place to start. Thanks for your time Sincerely,

corn harvest, La Ceiba, HondurasSweet corn

If you have any experience or can give some insight, please let us know by either leaving a comment or writing to me privately (click "Contact" underneath the Blogicito title or click "Email the author" if you are reading from the daily Feedburner email). Any names, organizations, or email addresses will remain private with me unless you give permission for me to pass the information on to Danise.

I'll summarize what I hear back (if I do) and report it in another blog article so maybe others will be helped as well. Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated.

March 26, 2009

A tired old blogicito

It is time for a Blogicito face lift. Those photos on top need to go. Poor Ramona the hen is in chicky heaven and it makes me sad every time I see her photo. Should I replace these photos with more small photos or try to find one really good one?

Any suggestions on photos that you would like to see? If so, right click on the article title where the photo is located, select "copy link location" and paste it in to a comment. Be sure to tell me which photo you are referring to if there is more than one photo in the article.

I'm debating about the elephant ear leaf background. Personally, I love bright colors. They make me happy. I took the photo standing underneath the giant leaves with the sun shining through them. That is the natural color of the original photo! But I suppose they may be a little too much for some readers.

Another thing that I'm not happy with is that I pieced the photos together so they would be perfectly symmetrical with the blog in the center − not realizing that what I see on my screen is not what everyone sees. Duh!

What do you think?

Thanks for your help!

March 25, 2009

On the road in Honduras, part 2

mountain, north coast, HondurasMountain on the north coast, Honduras

north coast highway, HondurasBelow is another part of the north coast road trip video discussed in this article (part 1) as well as a few more of El Jefe's mountain side photos.

There have been a couple of comments about what good shape the road is in. Yes, it is right now! We've definitely seen a lot worse over the years and have had a few blown out tires.

north coast highway, HondurasI'm embarrassed to say that I don't remember exactly where this video was taken. I'm pretty sure it was between San Juan Pueblo and Tela, but I had so many videos that I may have gotten them out of order. Maybe one of the readers can help me out here.

north coast highway, HondurasWe have another trip to San Pedro coming up soon so I will ride in the backseat and get some video of the mountains passing by. Normally I can only film on the trip to San Pedro because it is usually dark on the return trip.

(Oops! Did I say that? Well, do as I say, not as I do. Don't try to make this trip at night. El Jefe is an expert and has every turn in the road memorized. We still have had a few close calls, once with a cow, another time with a horse, and once we rounded one of those dead man curves to find that our lane was completely blocked with a huge pile of dirt -- thankfully, there were no cars coming in the other lane or I wouldn't be here to tell you about it.)

Here is the video:

If you like it, please let me know by giving it a rating at YouTube.

north coast highway, HondurasRelated videos: On the road in Honduras, part 1

Driving through San Juan Pueblo, Honduras

Driving through San Pedro Sula (coming up soon)

If you are reading this article from the daily Blogicito email, look for the video attachment below or simply click the title of this article to view the video at the Blogicito.

Storm coming in

March 24, 2009

Where does the water go?

lovely waterLovely water

For more than a decade, when the electricity goes out in our colonia during the daytime, the community water storage tank generally runs out of water within a couple of hours. Since there is no power, the well pump cannot pump more water to the tank. So to add insult to injury, in addition to not having electricity, we also would not have water.

I always thought that it was because our neighbors use a tank full of water in 2-3 hours. That seemed like a lot of water to me, but that would be the logical explanation, wouldn't it?

This is Honduras. Logic does not prevail. If you can think of a logical explanation for something, that most frequently means that it is not the right explanation.

It turns out that someone, somewhere, sometime decided that if the refill sensors were placed low in the storage tank, that less electricity would be used for the pump. The tank would fill up and the pump would not run again until the water level fell to the bottom of the tank. But that also meant that when (when, not if) the power went out, there would be almost no reserve water in the tank. Brilliant!

After we neighbors formed a water commitee and took over handling of the water situation, an engineer neighbor hired some workers to move the sensors almost to the top of the tank. I certainly don't know if continually pumping small amounts of water to the tank uses more electricity than pumping a whole tankful at a time, but I do know this: We had water throughout our recent 9 1/2 hour power outage, something which has never happened before!

Now that really is brilliant!

March 23, 2009

Guest blog: Thoughts on corruption

"Celebrate it, boys!"
(Happy Fight Against Corruption day!)
Cartoon: Dario Banegas, La Prensa, Honduras

The following guest blog article is by Keith, who wrote this "mainly just to capture the thoughts that I was having on the plane on the way back (last weekend from Honduras)". Keith spends much of his time in Central and South America.


Corruption perpetuates many evils, but none more powerful than this: That it destroys the vital link between industry and advancement. Who will work hard, or provide good service, or forgo immediate pleasures in order to grow their business, when they know that it may all be taken from them through a little bribery or superior family connections? One clear set of laws, applied honestly and impartially to all of the people is not merely the fairest system; it is the most productive. It is the one that can actually be seen to work.

From the traffic cop who takes a little bribe, all the way up to the President who advances legislative changes to benefit his campaign contributors, all obtain an immediate and personal advantage, but to the detriment of their whole society and so, ultimately, themselves. Each obtains, momentarily, a bigger slice of the pie, but – through destruction of the vital link noted above – at a collective cost of shrinking the whole pie. From the simplest comparison between relatively straight and honest societies and those with higher corruption it can be seen that any society that is serious about its overall advancement – in freedom, wealth, technological prowess, opportunity, and the respect of its own people and outsiders – will tackle corruption before anything else. Before social welfare; before improved education; before healthcare; before crime-fighting. None of these desirable goals has any real chance while the corruption index remains high. They will all be about as useful as bandages over an abscess.

Corruption’s greatest friends are apathy and fatalism. The bowed head and the shrugged shoulder. The brief mechanical little smile of helpless resignation. The very thing that the reader is probably feeling in reference to the thoughts expressed here. But things will change, in a democracy, exactly as soon as an effective majority of the people both want them to change and believe that they can change. Corruption has no immunity.

I offer these thoughts to the Honduran people and to Pepe Lobo during their run-up to the November elections. As a gringo who is about to move to Honduras I have good selfish reasons for wishing you all success and trying to help you achieve it. Your country is very beautiful, and has many natural advantages through which it could outstrip both Costa Rica and Panama to lead Central America as the world begins to emerge from its present slump. Would this not, for all of us, be worth the effort?


My thanks go to Keith for allowing me to reprint his article. Keith and I would both love to hear your thoughts and comments.

March 22, 2009

There is no credit!

No hay credito, La Ceiba, HondurasSign at a La Ceiba copy store

don't insist.
not even talking to Claudia.

However, punctuation is important. Due to lack of punctuation, the first two lines could be interpreted as: Please don't insist [that] there is no credit.

But I think the meaning is crystal clear.

By the way, if you need any special copying done in La Ceiba, see Claudia. She personally handled our color newsletter, figuring out a system so that we could do it for a very good price. Her copy shop is next door to Bomohsa, on the middle of the block past the old Texaco station on San Isidro on the same side street where Ricardo's Restaurant used to be. There I go, I sound like a local now, don't I? Giving landmarks that don't exist anymore.

Claudia is great. Just don't ask for credit!

March 20, 2009

Driving through San Juan Pueblo, Honduras

San Juan Pueblo, HondurasWelcome to San Juan Pueblo

Map, San Juan Pueblo, HondurasSan Juan Pueblo is medium-sized town about halfway between La Ceiba and Tela on the Honduran north coast highway. It is about a 30-40 minute drive to either city. Just driving through it over the years, I notice that it seems to have grown quite a bit since 2001. These photos are actually from 2006; the video is more current.

Meat in San Juan Pueblo, HondurasWe've been told that 'better' north coast beef comes from this area. (The best beef is supposed to be from Olancho.) I can't say that I'm really tempted by the sides of beef hanging outside in the hot sun and covered with flies. There are rumors about another product contributing to the town's growth. ;-/

meat and chicharones, San Juan Pueblo, HondurasFunny story about this photo: The woman with the worried look on her face and her husband, for some unknown reason, thought we were with the health or meat inspection department (what health department?!). I have no idea why she thought that except that I was taking photos. Maybe she had been in trouble before. Behind the man, you can see some beef parts hanging in the open air. To the left, you can see the chicharon (pork rinds) in the making.

San Juan Pueblo, HondurasWe had actually pulled over to ask where we could buy a soft drink because the first place we stopped only had glass bottles (which they wouldn't allow to leave the premises) or plastic bags (which LG has still not gotten the hang of, especially in a moving car). She said, "Then you aren't an inspector?" El Jefe reassured the lady and she seemed so relieved.

chicharones, San Juan Pueblo, HondurasIn the background of this photo (click to enlarge if you dare), you can see the tattered slabs of pork fat being dried to make chicharones (pork rinds). No wonder I don't like chicharones!

Thanks to the series of gigantesco speed bumps in San Juan Pueblo, the video below was taken at a little slower driving speed than the others. (El Jefe doesn't always have patience with my blogging needs.) You'll see the camera go almost sideways as we traverse them. ;-D Watch also for the escaped horse stampede. Here is the video:

San Juan Pueblo, HondurasAll the usual disclaimers about my on-the-road videos. I know these videos can be pretty boring to those living here, but for those Hondurans in other countries, they are a taste of home. Some day, hopefully, we will have more time and I can get some better photos and video.

As always, if you are reading this from the daily email and cannot see the video, please click on the article title and it will take you to the Blogicito where you can watch it.

March 19, 2009

Peeling Plantains in La Bomba, Jutiapa, Honduras

Peeling plantains, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasGirls helping out the family budget

plantains, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasThe following video was taken at a empacadora (packing plant) in La Bomba, Jutiapa. Local small farmers sell their plátano (plantain) crop to the empacadora who in turn has a contract to provide peeled plantains to a processing company in San Pedro where the packaged tajadas are made. Larger plantation owners are more likely to develop their own contracts directly so that they can receive better prices.

platanos, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasCurrently, a plátano sells for about L. 4 (US $ 0.21), but they were as high as about L. 4.50 when the price of fuel was elevated. When we came to Honduras in 2001, plátanos were selling for two for one lempira (about US $0.03 each at the exchange rate at that time). Since boiled or fried plátanos and bananas are a staple of the Honduran diet, the increase in price has had a big effect on the family budget of poor folks.

Packaged tajadas are thin, crispy, salty, fried plátano or banana slices. Though plantains and bananas are very similar, you can tell the difference because bananas will have a whitish or greyish look, while fried plátanos will be bright yellow. Tajadas are Honduras' preferred answer to potato chips and they can be bought just about anywhere, from the tiniest little plastic bags to giant family size bags, as well as homemade which are generally thicker slices.

Peeling plantains, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasGenerally, plátanos verdes (green plantains) are peeled by cutting off the narrow pointy ends, then running a knife blade through the thick peel lengthwise. Then either using a knife or fingers, the peel is pried open and then peeled off sideways. The simple technique of peeling back the skin in sections as most people are familiar with doing with ripe bananas does not work on green bananas or plantains. The skin is much thicker and tougher and much more securely attached to the fruit.

Peeling plantains, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasThe women and children in this video are paid L.14 (US $ 0.74) per plastic crate full of peeled plantains. The plastic crates hold about 40 pounds of peeled fruit. The peelers generally work in pairs or families form a group working together. You'll see in the video that one person does the knife work, while another peels the skin off.

Peeling plantains, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasAs each crate is filled, the tally man keeps track of the number of crates per group. The peeled plátanos are packed in large bags and loaded onto a truck, which will carry them to San Pedro Sula, about 3-4 hours away.

Plantains blacken pretty quickly after peeling, especially if any small part of the peel is left attached. Keeping the plantains in water as long as possible helps to prevent this. I'm not quite sure how that problem is handled during the waiting and shipping time. Peeling green plantains also leaves a sticky latex residue on the hands that will turn black and is very difficult to remove. The latex also ruins the workers clothes.

plantain peels, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasThe peels are not used for composting and enriching the soil for future crops, because Honduran farmers are generally pretty attached to their chemicals despite the ever-increasing cost. The peels are taken in this small trailer to be fed to cows, who are said to love them, so at least they don't go to waste.

plantains, La Bomba, Jutiapa, HondurasIn this area of plantain production, plátano rustlers, often young boys on horseback, scout around the plantain fields for ripened crop. A cell phone call to his compatriots alert them to the area where the thieves swoop in and steal the plantains. Most plantation owners must have guards to protect their crops.

So here is the video, I think you'll like it:

Even though the pay isn't much, it appears that these people are happy to have a job.

March 18, 2009


Oops! A broken egg!
(I'm using this image again as it fits and it is just so darn cute.)

Some Spanish words come so naturally. Like 'gracias'. Even when I'm in the US, 'gracias' instead of 'thank you' comes out. Then I get the look, like "I didn't know you were Mexican." -- because many Americans know that anyone who speaks Spanish is from Mexico. ;-/

Similarly, with 'perdon', I bump someone in the grocery store or on the street and out pops 'perdon'. 'Buenas' is an all occasion greeting word as well. Sometimes I can't even remember what I used to say when someone sneezed, but now it is 'salud'.

But one word that I haven't stopped saying is 'Oops!' I drop something: Oops. I make a mistake: Oops. I spill a dribble of coffee: Oops. I forget something: Oops.

The funniest thing is that several people who have been around me seem to really like this. Rarely will anyone in Honduras ever admit to a mistake or a goof. You will almost never hear "I made a mistake" in Spanish. It is possible to say that in the Spanish language, but the more common phrase translates more like "A mistake happened to me." In other words, it's not my fault!

I'm not sure how Hondurans mentally translate 'oops' but apparently it is an acceptable manner of saying "I goofed." My nephews really like it and use it a lot, at least around me. When we have a maid or workers here, it usually only takes a day or two before they start saying 'oops', too.

Like me saying 'pucha', it sounds really cute.

March 17, 2009

Free light bulbs for all


Several months ago La Prensa reported that La ENEE (the government owned electric company) would be giving a free compact fluorescent light bulb to every user household to encourage energy savings. I specify 'user' household, of course, because many households in Honduras do not have access to electricity at any cost and many more could have access, but cannot afford the installation costs.

Many of the households that I've been in, especially the ones who truly could use a free light bulb, have already used fluorescent bulbs for years because they know that CFLs save on the cost of the electric bill.

It didn't make a lot of sense to me, given the economic situation of La ENEE − on the verge of bankruptcy daily − to be giving freebies to middle class or rich households. However, I read a report just the other day that indicated that a pretty good portion of subsidies actually benefit the middle class and rich more so than the poor.

La ENEE, the enemyGiven the amounts we have been cheated by La ENEE, I kind of looked forward to getting my free light bulb, but really did not expect to ever see it. I assumed that the light bulbs would either be stolen and sold or that La ENEE would run out of bulbs before they left the high voter-concentration areas of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.

Somewhere along the line, apparently the plan changed. I then heard that user households were not being given one light bulb, they were being offered to change out every light bulb in their house! (I wonder which country or aid program provided the light bulbs?) For many families that would mean a deserved two or three free light bulbs, but imagine how many light bulbs those in normal to large-sized houses would get!

Reader B sent this to me (in part; all the nice compliments have been removed. ;-) ):

Hola La Gringa-

Today, some young folks from ENEE came to our street and exchanged ALL our bulbs for the energy efficient type, at no cost. (as far as I can understand as I don't speak Español yet).

They keep the boxes and put your old incandescent bulbs in them − they exchange bulb for bulb working or not, so if your readers are planning replacements ENEE may soon accommodate them.

Incidentally for the technically minded they supplied two brands ...I got 18 of the Philips "Twister" 20 watt units and two "dion guang" 14 watts vertical tube units.

This was news to me but maybe your readers are expecting it.

Wow! Isn't he lucky? And then he sent this email the next day:

Buenos días La Gringa-

After our first night with the new bulbs, I can give them a deserved thumbs-up. They give an equivalent light that seems, at first a bit stark, but much whiter and brighter. Makes even our old and dingy bathrooms a little more bearable.

They will likely not work with dimmers or tri-lite lamps as florescents need different electronics than incandescents. Best not to exchange all your spare bulbs, as they will still have useful applications.

We had the same experience as you with our last ENEE bill - too good to be true.

Please feel free to share, your other readers are a great resource for those of us lost in the wilderness...

I told El Jefe about this and he told me a funny story. Apparently to prevent theft or corruption, La ENEE will only exchange bulb for bulb. (Or maybe the government offices will use the incandescents since they don't pay their electric bills anyway and so don't have to be efficient.)

His aunt already had all CFL bulbs in her house, but of course wanted some free light bulbs. They said 'no can do', but suggested that she could go to the corner pulperia to buy some cheap bulbs and they would exchange them out for the more expensive CFLs. They waited. She did. And they did.

A few days after Bruce's email, a neighbor from the front of the colonia excitedly called to let us know to get our old light bulbs ready because La ENEE was here in our colonia!

Sadly, apparently the light bulbs ran out that day, or their allotted time in our colonia ran out, because they never made it to La Gringa's house. No government handouts for me but that is okay.

There is still hope for you readers in Honduras.

March 16, 2009

El traductor ha regresado

English-Spanish dictionary
La encuesta ya está cerrada. Doce personas quieren traducir el blogicito a otro idioma. Por lo tanto, hay suficiente demanda para mi! El traductor lo puse de nueva. Usted puede encontrarlo en la parte superior derecha. Selecione su idioma para traducir la página entera.


The translator is back

The poll is now closed. Twelve people would like to translate the Blogicito to another language. That's good enough for me! The translator is back. You can find it at the upper right. Pick your language to translate the whole page.

If I had only known

Coffee cup mottoEat dessert first, life is uncertain

Ay Díos mio! Another Sunday with no juice and no advance warning this time. Naturally I had planned to sew all day on my electric sewing machine.

Daytime power outages really don't bother me that much if I know about them ahead of time. After tending to the animals, I scoured Saturday's newspaper looking for any notice of this calamity, blaming myself for not reading the newspaper and thus preparing mentally and coffee-ically for another day without power. Ahah! There was none. How rude. It wasn't my fault we had no coffee.

I quickly developed a headache − no doubt due to lack of caffeine. El Jefe asked if I wanted him to drag out the emergency cooktop and tank of gas. Yeah....Nah....I don't care. He didn't. Instead I put on my sleep mask to darken the blinding sun and went back to bed. El Jefe took that as a sign that I really had a headache as I can never, I mean never, sleep while the sun is up − unless I have dengue or some other equally devastating illness.

Naturally, I couldn't sleep. J ended up making some coffee which was quite good and that dispelled the headache better than the ibuprofen I had taken earlier.

It was a long, long day. Four o'clock is that magical hour when the power generally is restored. Sometimes, as a special treat, the power is turned on 10 minutes early. Under ordinary circumstances, I rarely look at the clock. On no-power days, I look at the battery operated clock 50 times per day, mentally adding 20-25 minutes to the time because the clock is that slow.

Maybe the time is near: No, 1:00 p.m. An hour later, I look at the clock: 1:15. Half an hour later: 1:25. I go outside, spending at least two hours trimming some plants: 2:05. I read for awhile on the terraza: 3:00. I try to video a flock of birds in the trees: 3:15. I gather up some of my tropical gardening books hoping to get inspired. 3:45.

Alas, it was not to be. Four o'clock comes and goes. 4:10, 4:20, 4:35. So it is definitely going to be a 5:00 day. But then, by the clock it was 4:50, which should have been 5:15 real time and the power still wasn't back on! 5:25, 5:30, I was panicking. 5:35 − Finally!

From now on, I vow to make a pot of coffee every Saturday night and put it in the refrigerator.

March 12, 2009

Playing the dumb immigrant card

highway, La Ceiba, Honduras

Immigrants anywhere: Admit it. Have you or have you not ever played the 'dumb immigrant card' to your advantage? Not ever?

You've never said, "Discoolpay. Yo no intendo." or "Me no espeak English."?

Instead of standing in line like everyone else, have you never wandered around with a dumb look on your face hoping someone will take pity?

Have you never met "Hey, you can't do that..." with a confused response in your worst accent?

Or, most shameful, have you never pretended to be a dumb tourist (the people who get all the breaks) when you've really lived there for 5 years?

Hey! Immigrants don't get many advantages anywhere, so what the heck! Why not? (Note that La Gringa is not talking about committing crimes, just occasionally avoiding those little inconveniences.)

I saw the transito police road block just as I pulled over to the side of the highway near the gas station to drop off El Jefe. Oh, no! Not having planned to even drive out on the highway, I didn't think to take my purse and therefore didn't have my driver's license and car registration. That lack of documentos is one of the few delitos in Honduras for which the perpetrators will always be punished!

I thanked God I hadn't gone out in my jammies as I had briefly considered doing. I truly had an flashing vision of me cowering in my nightgown in the middle of the police station while everyone pointed and laughed.

The situation was that El Jefe had to go to a meeting and I had to go pick up someone at the airport later. So he asked me to drive him down to the highway to catch a taxi so I would have the car for later. I didn't plan on driving out on the highway, but he couldn't quickly get the attention of any passing taxis so he said to drive on down to the gas station where there might be some waiting taxis.

Pulling over just before the roadblock of course is very suspicious. I rolled down my window as I always do when the police are around. (This is a tip for all the ladies in Honduras: Apparently there are very few women car thieves, so when they see a woman driving − or at least one with an honest face like me ;-D − they just wave you on.*)

This time, however, all of the police were intently staring at me and looked none too friendly. After all, I had pulled off the road just before the road block and a man had jumped out of the car and ran for a taxi. A tad suspicious, no? The head guy hollered across the street to me, "What are you doing?". I hollered back, "My husband needs to catch a taxi." (All this in Spanish, of course.) He frowned and then made what looked to me like an irritated arms-wide sort of shrugging gesture.

I didn't know how to interpret that. I thought that maybe he had said, "Dale!" (okay, go ahead) but he was in the middle of the highway with traffic going by and maybe he was actually saying "Halt!" or something like "Don't move or I'll shoot!". I didn't want to take a chance that they would get angry or shoot out my tires. (Immigrants everywhere have an exaggerated fear of the police, no?)

The police can impound your car if you don't have your registration card and going about with no ID is a big no-no. This has happened to El Jefe. Once I had to go to the police station before they released the car and another time I was able to get a neighbor to take me to the roadblock with the registration card so they let him and the car go.

El Jefe, who is generally very protective, incredibly just got in the taxi and left me to my fate as the criminal I was! After a few moments of looking confused and inching the car back and forth to turn around for my getaway, a female officer took pity on me and hollered that I was free to go. Not only that, but the police stopped the traffic from both directions so I could get back on the highway! Whew! That was a close one.

You'll be happy to know that El Jefe did call me (an hour later!) to make sure that I wasn't in jail. He said that the taxi driver refused to wait. I told him what happened. Damn!, he said. Not that he wanted anything bad to happen to me, he was just a little jealous of my 'dumb immigrant' status. ;-D

*Aside: This preferential treatment of women irritates El Jefe to no end. In the 7 1/2 years that we've been here, he has been stopped by the police and checked for license and registration, oh, probably 200-300 times! Granted, he drives a lot more than I do, but I've been stopped, oh, maybe once.

Sometimes they even search the car or him personally, putting him spread-eagled against the car while they check for weapons or drugs − never when I am with him, though. Since we have to pass one or another of their favorite road check spots to get to town, sometimes he's been stopped on his way to Wendy's for hamburgers and stopped again by the same person on his way back. Waving the Wendy's bag with protests of "Don't you remember me from 10 minutes ago?" fall on deaf ears. The rules are the rules. Unless you're a woman or a dumb immigrant, that is.

So, have you ever played the dumb immigrant card and how did that work out for you?

March 11, 2009

On the road in Honduras

North coast highway, HondurasCheck out the curve in that road!
Not something you want to drive at night.

North coast highway, HondurasThe following video was taken along the north coast highway on a trip from La Ceiba to San Pedro (Honduras). We always have so many places to go and things to do while we are in San Pedro that there is no time to stop along the way to take photos, so this is just on-the-road videos. Nothing too exciting but I thought they might be interesting to some and there are more coming up soon.

(El Jefe might tell you that if a certain person woke up earlier there would be time.)

Here is the video. If you are reading this from the daily email, you may need to click on the article title and come to the blog to view it.

El Jefe took these photos in this article on the mountain side of the highway on the trip back to La Ceiba while I was driving. The video is on the flat north (ocean) side. Next time I'll have to ride in the back seat to get the mountain (south) side since it is usually dark by the time we come home.

North coast highway, HondurasIt should be noted that I always recommend to people to NOT make this drive at night. It can be very dangerous with cars and trucks driving with no lights, cows, horses, or people on the road, not to mention the number of "dead man curves" along the way. It's amazing to me, considering how very dark most of the 2-3 hour trip is, that El Jefe has the entire road memorized and knows when and where every curve in the road is coming up.

I always take a book or magazines or something on these trips and never, ever open a page. I love to watch the view!

North coast highway, Honduras

March 9, 2009

Back from a black hole

It felt like I had fallen in a black hole! Actually, my internet connection was only out for about 46 hours. I'm such an addict.

Then to add insult to injury, today I awoke to no water, and shortly after that the electricity went out! What fun!

All is well now but I'm trying to dig my way through 80-some new emails and that is only from my LG account. There is the 'real me' account and a couple of others that I just use to store newsletters and discussion group messages.

What was really sad for me was that I was making a herculean effort to clear out my inboxes on Saturday. Man, those inboxes are like black clouds hanging over my head. I used to try to keep the LG account to less than 50 unattended emails. It had gradually gotten up to almost 250!

Before the internet went out, I diligently read and answered most that needed an answer and guiltily deleted the ones which should have been answered 2-3 months ago because I was too embarrassed to answer at this late date. Since La Gringa likes to LEARN, much of my email is informational stuff and I even made it through a lot of those, including reading linked websites in Español and UN documents. (Not easy reading!)
I got the inbox down to 140 and had high hopes of getting down to 100.

Now my inbox is almost back where it was before I started. ;-/ I think I need to narrow my interests and admit that I don't have time to read everything about everything.

Since I knew my computer would miss me, I spent a lot of that unconnected time Sunday and today drafting or finishing some articles and making MOVIES! I have 2-year-old video on my computer waiting to be made into a movie. I hope that you are going to enjoy some of them. Stay tuned!

Thanks to reader D for the great cartoons!
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