February 27, 2007

Operation Scissors

The scissors strike! (All photos: La Prensa, Honduras)

Honduran President Mel Zelaya has started Operación Tijera (Operation Scissors). He says he is going to cut the electrical power to everyone who hasn't paid their bills, starting with the largest debtors. This is incredible and I'm starting to believe that he means business.

After appointing four different heads to the national electric company, La ENEE, in a little over one year, he has apparently realized that "if you want a job done right, you just have to do it yourself." A week ago he took over the reins, spending, he says, six hours a day from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. trying to straighten out the mess.

La ENEE loses approximately L. 3 billion per year (U.S. $158 million). They can't provide enough power for the entire country even though 30% of population doesn't even have electricity. La ENEE doesn't have money for badly needed improvements or even basic maintenance and there has been talk of rationing electricity. It's been said that the major problem is the theft of electricity and non-payment of the monthly bills.

President Zelaya enlisted other government officials in the operation making it the number one priority of the nation. The officials are assigned to Operation Scissors Fridays through Mondays and are expected to do their normal jobs on Tuesdays through Thursdays. Moreover, those who don't produce the dollars will have their failure reflected in their annual evaluations. Mel fires ministers with bad evaluations.

These officials serve as the commanders supervising the operations in 39 Honduran cities. The squadrons consist of La ENEE functionaries, police, military, district attorneys, and technicians. Besides cutting the power of those who owe or have illegal connections, they are changing out the meters of 28,000 high consumers because they believe the meters have been tampered with.

Yesterday's La Prensa reported that the tijeras had cut the power to 700 clients, including some of the most powerful people and biggest companies in the country. Former President Rafael Leonardo Callejas, undoubtedly one of the most blatantly corrupt people in Honduran history (even though he has yet to be convicted on a single count), had power cut to two of his businesses for 5 years of unpaid debts totaling U.S. $20,000 each.

The tijeras came to the new, huge City Mall in San Pedro, with the largest La ENEE debt in San Pedro Sula. Their power was cut momentarily until they rushed to the bank to make payment. The famous country club of the rich of San Pedro, Club Hondureño Arabe, was found to be stealing electricity direct from the lines at a cost estimated to be L.283,000 per month.

Electricity to the luxurious Honduras Maya Hotel (photo at right), owned by the vice president of the National (political) Party Jorge Abudoj, was cut as well. Lear Kyunshing, one of the largest businesses saved themselves by immediately paying a debt of L.903 thousand. Business owner and Liberal Party member, Gilberto Goldstein, was granted one day to pay his bill.

Arturo Corrales Álvarez, former presidential candidate and current president of Semeh, the subcontractor responsible for measuring and issuing electric bills throughout the country, was found to have an illegal connection at a building he owns along with a L. 40,000 past due account. Suspicious billing practices of Semeh are being investigated as well.

What's funny is that they are cutting the power of the cutters, too. They cut the power for one big shot diputado (congressman) who has a 'direct electrical connection' (read 'illegal') to his brand new mansion (photo at top). In January, he threatened workers and refused to allow La ENEE to install a meter. It is estimated that he uses about L.5,000 of electricity per month. (Our house runs about L.1,500 per month to give you a comparison.) It was cut while he was out supervising 'the scissors' in another area.

Here in La Ceiba, Wendy's, Popeye's, Hotel VIP Siesta, Helados Castillo, and Hotel Monserat had their power cut. In Choluteca, 114 business and homes were left in the dark, representing a debt of L. 2.8 million. In Puerto Cortes, two big hotels, Banco de Occidente, and Texaco Caribbean were the major debtors. Power to several gas stations was cut in Comayagua.

I tried to pay my own electric bill online today (Not because it's late − It's not!) and couldn't even get on the system for a few hours. The newspaper reported that the banks and La ENEE offices throughout the country are bursting at the seams and that the banking system collapsed for a time yesterday. It seems like many folks are trying to beat the scissors! The newspaper reported, however, that most of the payers were "of humble origins."

In four days, Operacíon Tijera has recovered L. 80 million (U.S. $4.2 million).

Today many cheaters are coming forward with explanations, excuses, and "proof" that their illegal connections were authorized (through bribes, no doubt). Officials admit that since Sunday, they have been receiving pressure from powerful sectors to suspend the program, but so far the government seems to be holding strong.

One headline read "Nadie se salvó de la tijera" (No one is safe from the scissors!) This is exciting stuff.

(I hope my cable internet company has paid their bills!)

Frank is back

Frank made it as far as the Mexican-U.S. border. He was caught by the Mexican officials and sent back to Honduras.

He stopped by this afternoon to see if we had any work. We do. He is coming back tomorrow morning.

I was both happy and sad to see him. We talked for a bit about his experience. He just kind of laughed about it, except that he had spent about L.1,500 to get there. He didn't seem too upset. I have an idea that he will try to make it to the U.S. again sometime in the future.

After he left, I realized that he was on foot, not riding his bicycle. I'm wondering now if he sold his bike for more money for the trip. He lives a long way from here, probably 6 or 8 miles. Despite my vow, No More Loans, I have a feeling that we may be buying another bicycle.

Sorry, no posts matched your criteria

"Sorry, no posts matched your criteria, please try and search again."

I've seen those words about 50 times today, and believe me, they are music to my ears.

After having those stolen content problems last week, I set up a few Google Alerts. This is a case of using technology to fight those who are using technology to steal your work. Instead of me wasting my time searching for unauthorized use of my articles, I let Google do it for me.

If you are a blog author, I recommend that you do this, too. I'm setting up an alert for every article now. Don't use your title, because they sometimes change the titles. Don't use your first paragraph because many spam blogs (splogs) use the first paragraph only and that would probably be considered "fair use" by copyright laws as long as they include a link to your site.

I set up a Google Alert with one or two sentences from the second paragraph of an article, surrounded by quotation marks, and Google scours the internet looking for those exact sentences. I set them up as "As it happens" alerts. I usually get one hit immediately, reporting my own blog. Then sure enough, more hits started coming in. And boy, did they come in.

Some jerk in Thailand had copied dozens of my articles in their entirety, including photos, hundreds of times! Of course, not only mine but numerous other blog authors. (I didn't see anyone else I know.) He included a link merely saying "blogicit" in tiny letters at the bottom of each article.

This guy has hundreds of blogs on the ddneo.com domain. They have names like loa, lob, loc, lo2a, lo2b, lo3a, lo4a, and seem to go on and on forever. Each splog that I found had from one to three of my complete articles and photos.

I began reporting each blog I ran across to Splog Reporter. I guess I overwhelmed them because they shut down the service the day after I started using the site!

I also reported the copyright violations on about 40 of the blogs to Google ads. After all, the only reason that people do this is to earn money on ads, so "hit 'em where it hurts" may be the best tactic. This takes a lot of time, though, and who knows if the giant Google pays any attention to these reports.

The only humorous thing about this is that my article about blog content theft with the big red announcement that said "Notice: The author of this blog steals all of his material....." was republished on several of his blogs, too!

Finally I found the domain owner's email address and I wrote the guy. He wrote back today to say:
From: nattapon nimakul totizy@gmail.com
Date: Feb 27, 2007 6:01 AM
Subject: Re: Notice of copyright violations
To: La Gringa

I have remove all content from you web site(" http://lagringasblogicito.blogspot.com/");
And stop repost from you web site.
If you see post from you site appear at my web site, Please contact me any time.
I will remove post as soon as possible.

sorry again.

I'm leaving out a lot of details, since it may not be of interest to those of you who don't have blogs. I spent many hours and was pretty depressed about the whole thing. Some, including El Jefe, would say, "So what? You can't stop all the plagiarists on the internet." That's true, but it just felt like such a violation. I spend a lot of time and work hard on this blog! And for someone halfway around the world to be copying all of my work to make money on it....well, I just couldn't let it go.

For those who say, and plenty do, that it is a compliment − No, plagiarizing one's work in its entirety is theft and against the law. This is a compliment:

Chiriquí Chatter (Panama)

So is this case, where the person requested permission to reprint the article in advance:

Rio Dulce Chisme Vindicator (Guatemala)

And so is this, where the site has permission to use my gardening articles, links to my articles, and lists a blog link on each page:

Garden Voices

And it is really an honor to be included on this site:

Global Voices

Those are examples of how it is perfectly appropriate, and yes, a compliment, to use or refer to someone else's work. I'm happy to see my articles quoted elsewhere and happy to even give permission to use an entire article as long as I get credit for my work!

February 26, 2007

El Porvenir, Atlantida, Honduras

wooden house, El Porvenir, HondurasOne of the oldest houses in El Porvenir, Honduras

El Porvenir (meaning 'The Future' in Spanish) is a little town about 8 miles (13 km.) west of La Ceiba. It's larger than most small towns in Honduras and is La Ceiba's largest 'suburb.' It sits between the ocean and the Standard Fruit (Dole) pineapple fields. Other than houses, five churches, a school, and an assortment of pulperías (small convenience stores), there isn't a whole lot there. There are a few restaurants and bars on the beach, mostly frequented by locals.

river, El Porvenir, HondurasThis is the river − well, sometimes it is a river. Most of the time it is a creek or completely dry as it is now. Deforestation of the mountains and bad agricultural practices have caused a lot of the rivers to run dry in Honduras and it gets worse each year.

The people of this town suffered with at most one or two hours of water a day for almost 20 years. Just recently, they have begun receiving water more regularly. It must come from another river, obviously it's not coming from this one. My theory is that Dole was diverting the water for the pineapple fields and their nearby recent housing development which has water available 24 hours a day. An important politician/landowner (who, of course, has recently been accused of major corruption) was also said to have been diverting the water for his crops.

one lane wood bridge, El Porvenir, HondurasThis is the one lane wooden bridge that has to be crossed to get to town. El Porvenir is a town basically forgotten by the government of Honduras. The main road is a dusty, gravel one and some are just dirt. The only mode of communication until the 1990's was telegraph. As of 1993, there was only one home telephone in town.

At one time, much of the population of El Porvenir worked for Dole in the pineapple fields. Now Dole has cut way back and many work or have small businesses in La Ceiba. Work in the pineapple fields is hard, hot, and extremely poorly paid.

pineapple fields, El Porvenir, HondurasSome workers make L. 500-600 (about US $26-32) per week for a 6 day week. Workers are paid with a 'chit' and must make a 16 mile round trip (26 km.) into town, often by bicycle, to cash it at the bank or they can pay about 10% of their earnings in commission to a local money changer.

Sometimes they are required to work 10 to 14 hours per day. If they refuse, they are fired and there will always be some other needy person to take their place because jobs are hard to find. There are high incidences of cancer, sterility, and birth defects here, no doubt a result of the high chemical usage in the pineapple fields.

eucalyptus trees, El Porvenir, HondurasThese are eucalyptus trees planted several years ago in an area just before the town to help absorb the excess water from the ground. Some areas of El Porvenir are swampy and normally owners fill in the property before building. You can see the Honduran penchant for planting everything in nice, neat even spaced rows.

Most of the town is not as heavily treed as this. Some folks have coconut palms, banana, or yuca plants in their garden but most lots aren't large.

wooden house, El Porvenir, HondurasMany homes sport beautiful tropical flowers, but it's hard to keep a nice garden with the dusty roads and lack of water. Pigs, sheep, cows, chickens, and dogs walk the street and enter any property that isn't fenced. Landscaping isn't a priority for most of the poor.

wooden house, El Porvenir, HondurasIf you enlarge this photo at the left, you'll see two large fruits near the top of this tree. They are similar to a gourd. A small hole is punctured in the fruit. It is then placed on the ground so that ants will enter and clean out the fruit, leaving the seeds behind. Eventually it will dry and be used as a musical instrument. The tree also shows the typical signs of 'machete-pruning.'

cook house, El Porvenir, HondurasSmall cooking buildings were often used with the older wooden houses. This one is now used as a bodega (shed). Several of the owner's children left the country to find jobs and, with better lives, were able to send back money to build a new house for their mother. The old, original wooden house was torn down.

El Porvenir, Honduras, received international fame (infamy) in 2003 when 69 people
were killed in a massacre in the nearby national prison. Most of the victims were prisoners but three women and one child who were visiting were also killed.

front porch, El Porvenir, HondurasThe people of El Porvenir are friendly, as most small town people are. Front porches are popular places to sit and chat with neighbors walking by. The gravel covered main street is a busy one with no shortage of cars, trucks, buses, bicycles, and pedestrians going by day and night. Sadly, iron bars are the only way to prevent theft of the owner's chairs and bicycle.

wooden house, El Porvenir, HondurasThis is not a vacant house. Apparently the people are away and all the wooden shutters (there are no windows) are closed up to prevent theft. Even the poorest people in Honduras have to worry about their things being stolen.

mountains, El Porvenir, HondurasFrom just about anywhere in town, there are spectacular views of the cloud forest mountains to the south, particularly Pico Bonito, the tallest peak in northern Honduras.

There are nicer and more modern concrete houses in El Porvenir as well. Several North Americans have moved in near the beach.

beach, El Porvenir, HondurasBeach in El Porvenir

I started taking photos of the most picturesque houses and then we ran out of time and daylight. Maybe I'll try again some other day.

February 25, 2007

Week 2: Puppy Update

The cutest puppies in the world

The chihuahua pups have opened their eyes in the past two days. They were kind of cockeyed looking for a few days as some of their eyes were half opened and Blackie had one eye opened and one shut yesterday.

It's incredible how fast they grow. The black pup weighed 14 oz. last Friday, 15 oz. on Saturday, and 16 oz. on Sunday (.40, .43, and .45 kg.). I can't weigh them anymore on my kitchen scale because it only goes to one pound. I can tell you that all together we have 6 lbs. of puppies (2.7 kg.). That's up from 1 1/4 lbs. total (.57 kg.) when they were born. Poor Zoe.

Blackie is still holding the lead at 9 inches long (23 cm.). The other three are 8 inches (20 cm.). He was the last to be born.

For each of these pictures, I lined them up facing me neatly in a row. You can see what I ended up with. They are little squirmers!

February 24, 2007

Lemons or Limes?

Are these lemons or limes?

When I first came to Honduras, I thought that we only had limes available here. El Jefe informed me that they were green lemons, not limes. I wondered why the lemons were picked green, but then I learned later why the lemons were green.

Our lemons look much different than the large, thick-skinned, elliptical yellow fruits that you see in U.S. grocery stores. They are generally small, round, thin-skinned, and almost never have seeds. Sounds like limes, doesn't it? Actually, after awhile I began to wonder if I had just forgotten the difference between the taste of lemon and lime and wasn't even sure what I was using anymore.

I couldn't understand why we couldn't find limes. Limes are very popular for many recipes of Central American and Caribbean countries and for some of my Tex-Mex recipes, limes are the thing and lemons just won't do. And for Margaritas? Limes!

We asked at every vivero (plant nursery) if they had limas (limes). Most didn't even know what we were talking about. So for awhile I resigned myself to living the rest of my life with only lemons. Then I read that Key limes (Citrus aurantifolia) come true from seed, unlike most citrus plants.

I mentioned this to an internet friend in Iowa, who asked a friend of hers in Florida if she could send me some seeds. She very kindly did, but the seeds were crushed by the postal machines along with my hope of having limes at some point in my future. I tried germinating them anyway because a few didn't look too badly damaged, but no success.

Key lime seedlings (Citrus aurantifolia)Then Bound for Ceiba, who was coming to La Ceiba, brought me some Key lime seeds! Hallelujah! About two-thirds of them germinated and are growing slowly but seem to be doing well. (Thank you Bound, that was an even better present than the chocolate chips!) This picture is from November 24 and the two photos below are from December 26 and February 23.

I have many more little trees than I need but I plan to give some away. (Yes, I never give up on trying to share my gardening treasures even though I have a hard time finding anyone who wants them). I also plan to give some to the agricultural university here in La Ceiba. When we asked about limes there before, they expressed an interest in doing some tree grafts if I could get a branch into the country but it's against the law to bring plants into the country.

Key lime seedlings (Citrus aurantifolia)Another thing that confused me was that often the lemons in the stores or markets are called, "Limón Persa," (Persian Lemons). Not being a citrus expert by any means, I had heard of Persian Limes, but never Persian Lemons. The fruits are sometimes also referred to as limón Indio.

My 'Fruits and Condiments of the Humid Tropics' book from the Honduran agricultural university clarified that for me. It says that the origin of the Limón Persa plant is unknown, but is thought to be a hybrid between the lima mexicana (Citrus aurantifolia or lime) and the cidra (Citrus medica Linn. or citron). But then I saw that the Honduran book gives the botanical name for this plant as Citrus latifolia Tan. which is the botanical name for Tahitian limes! So do we have lemons or limes? Do you see why I am so confused?

Key lime seedlings (Citrus aurantifolia)The only other lemon or lime mentioned in the book is limón agrio (botanical name Citrus limon Burm. f.) or sour lemon. The book mentioned that these lemons have seeds and are hardly ever served fresh. Instead they are used in the fabrication of juices and other food products and are rarely cultivated in Central America.

The other day I found some limes mixed with some lemons that we bought at the grocery store. As I cut one, I smelled that unmistakable fragrance of lime. Then I tasted it and knew it was a lime! I was quite relieved that I hadn't forgotten what a lime tasted like. That was really bothering me. Who knows where the limes came from or whether they will ever be available again. Maybe they were from a tree that had reverted back to Citrus aurantifolia.

A wonderful online book from Purdue University, 'Fruits of Warm Climates,' indicates that Key limes lost favor with much of the U.S. commercial industry because they are more cold sensitive than Tahitian limes and because the spiny thorns make it difficult to pick the fruit on a large scale.

Key limes, also commonly called Mexican limes, are generally smaller than the Tahitian lime and have seeds, whereas the Tahitian lime doesn't. But Key limes are also widely regarded as the more flavorful of the two varieties. This picture from the online book shows the comparison of Tahitian limes on the left and Key limes on the right. The fruit that we buy here is more often closer to the smaller variety.

Fruits of Warm Climates indicates that in most Spanish-speaking countries lemons are known as limón, limón real, or limón agria. The Honduras book says the same. Fruits of Warm Climates indicates that in Spanish limes are called lima ácida, lima chica, limón criollo, limón corriente, or limón agria. Did you notice that limón agria was listed twice? But the Honduran book says that the tree, limón agrio (with an 'o' because trees take the masculine form of the Spanish word, whereas fruits take the feminine form), is the common name for sour lemon.

We buy lemons (or do we buy limes?) at least every two weeks. Sometimes they are a little larger, usually smaller, but in all these years, we have rarely ever had a lemon with seeds, indicating that these are not Key limes or sour lemons. They taste like lemons to me but according to my Honduran book, these should be Tahitian limes. Who knows? All I know is that in 3 or 4 years, I'll be using Key limes for sure.

I've spent all day on this article and I've read it over and over and I'll have to say that it is the most confusing article I've ever written. Sorry about that.

February 22, 2007

Cultural differences: Greetings

The Honduran greeting kiss is closer than the celebrity 'air kiss.'
It's more like the Camilla and Charles kiss. ;-D

Hugs and kisses abound in Honduras culture. Women usually greet each other with a little hug and a kissing gesture on the cheek, even when meeting for the first time.

Men who are relatives or close friends may greet women that way, too. Among each other, men will usually shake hands, sometimes accompanied by a hug and a pat on the back if they are friends or family. The same gestures are exchanged again when parting.

Coming from a very non-demonstrative family, this was a little uncomfortable at first but I've grown to like it. Children meeting you for the first time will often say hello and then give you a big hug which is really sweet.

Greetings almost always begin with 'buenos días' (good day) or 'buenas tardes' (good afternoon) or simply 'buenas.' Buenos días is used until exactly noon at which time you switch to buenas tardes. Supposedly, buenas noches (good evening) begins at dark, but I've had others tell me that it signifies good night, as in goodbye, just as it does in English. When in doubt, just say 'buenas' − it's an all occasion word.

A bit confusing to me was the Honduran accent which drops the 's' so that what my ear hears is bueno' día' and buena' noche'. It made sense to me, since you are only wishing someone one good day, but when I asked about it, it seems that they think they are saying the 's'. If I say buena' noche', it's guaranteed to get weird looks, even though to my ears it sounds exactly like what they are saying.

Mucho gusto is akin to 'nice to meet you' or 'nice to see you again' − that comes in handy when you can't remember if you met the person before.

¡Buen provecho! (Enjoy your meal!) is commonly said when passing by someone who is eating in a restaurant, even to strangers.

Hola (Hi) is an appropriate casual greeting among friends.
'Buenas' is commonly used here when arriving or to get someone's attention.

Adiós (goodbye) or ¿que tal? (Hello. How are you?) are also used to acknowledge an acquaintance in a situation where you can't or don't have time to stop to chat, for example if the person is on the other side of the street or you don't know them that well. It's sort of a hello and goodbye all in one.

Don or doña (master or mistress of the house) are terms of respect used with the first name. Don or doña are often used with those of a higher rank in business or social status where 'Señor Garcia or Señora Garcia' would be too formal. Older people are almost always referred to as don Juan or doña Juana no matter what their social standing. Employees greeting or referring to their boss will often say 'don Juan.'

Nos vemos (we'll see you) is the customary casual way of saying goodbye.

So .... ¡Mucho gusto! ¡Hasta la proxima vez!

(Nice to see you! Until the next time!)

February 21, 2007

Five things you don't know about La Gringa

Tag! You're it!

My (former) friend Mrs. Quad tagged me for a meme − Five things people don't know about you. I ignored it for as long as I could. I hate, err, dislike those things, so don't any of you even think about tagging me for another one. ;-)

Since my life is so boring, I decided to put a 'theme' to my meme. I'm going to tell you about La Gringa's brushes with fame.

When I was 5, I was on a children's TV show. During the cartoon break, the host picked me out of the audience to interview on camera. After my name and how old I was and a few other things, he asked what my father's name was. I answered, "I don't know." My mother was completely mortified. Apparently it sounded as if I didn't know who my father was. (I was only 5! I thought his name was 'Daddy.')

I have a picture of myself with Al Gore when he was Vice President of the U.S. The problem is that it is The Most Horrible Picture of me that there has ever been. I've only showed it to two people in my entire life and they both burst out laughing! I will never show it to anyone again. (He was more arrogant than you might think.)

I could have had a picture of myself with George W. Bush when he was Governor of Texas, but I didn't want to bother him. Sh**. A picture with a U.S. president, even an unpopular one, would have been pretty cool. (He was much more charismatic than you might think.)

I wrote 90% of a citywide neighborhood crime watch manual (it was a committee project, but you know how those things go) that has been used in several cities in the US, as well as cities in Russia, Mexico, and a few other countries. A few years later, after I 'retired' from my volunteer work, the police department began updating it themselves. The last time I saw it, it was a shameful mess of bad grammar, typos, and misinformation. I doubt if they even use it anymore.

A battle I started with some city politicians resulted in a Texas law being changed a year later! They were powerful, but wrong. I was nobody, but right. Ain't America wonderful?! That law was to protect the privacy of neighborhood crime watch leaders, many of whom lived in crime and gang ridden areas and literally feared for their lives. Of course, in the process of trying to help them, my name was in the newspaper and my face was on television. No privacy for me!

So, there you have it.
Are you still there?
Wake up!

Now, who should I pick on? This is what I hate about memes. Now I've been sucked into doing to others what I didn't want done to me.

Bob, the FH-1100 pilot living on the island of Guanaja, Honduras; LadyLuz, the British gardener/mosaic maker in Spain; Antonio, the Catracho who writes about Honduras from Colorado; Nicole, the Caribbean gardener; and Sharon, the Kiwi married to a Catracho in New Zealand, please tell us five scintillating things that we don't know about you. I have faith that you can do better than I did!

Mrs. Quad has the rules. I stole the pic above from her and I see that she stole from someone else. I hope I don't get in trouble.

Will you still be my friends?

February 20, 2007

No more small talk!

No more small talk! I had to remove the recent comments feature from the sidebar. Darn! I really like showing the latest comments, don't you? I know you do, because those comments get clicked more than anything. But it's busted. It started showing 3-month-old comments last weekend for some strange reason and it won't update.

I have taken it off and put it back hoping that would cure the problem, but no. I've gone back to previous template backups, copied that section and pasted it over my current template, but no. Nothing works.

I have no idea what could have caused it. Does anyone have any idea? Is anyone else having that problem, too? I want it baaaaackkkk!

Update: I found out that it is a Blogger problem, so I guess we'll just have to wait for them to fix it.

February 19, 2007

Home building design tips for the tropics

High ceilings and ceiling fans − it's a good thing

I thought I would pass along some tips for those of you who will be building a house here in Honduras or elsewhere in the tropics. Some of the tips are from our architect, some we thought of when we were designing our home, and a few we wish we had thought of.

These are some basic tips to keep your home cool and dry − the major considerations in a tropical area. Although most of the tips are just common sense, those of us coming from colder, drier climates might not always realize their importance.

Plan your house to take full advantage of the prevailing breeze. Designing the house so that your bedrooms receive the breeze is a good idea and may save you from using air conditioning many nights.

Plan your design it so that you have good cross ventilation. A more open floor plan allows the air to circulate better throughout the house than closed off rooms.

Heat rises, so high ceilings can make a big difference. Here in Honduras, it doesn't cost all that much more to make your ceilings 10 feet high because the main difference is adding a few extra rows of blocks.

Ceiling fans in most or all of your rooms will help you to feel much cooler, especially in the kitchen. If you have high ceilings, you'll need extensions to drop the fan down so that the blades are at about 8 feet for the best effect. Ceiling fans don't use much more electricity than a light bulb. Good quality ceiling fans are available in the U.S. for around $100 and sometimes much less than that − not that much more than a nice light fixture.

Design your windows as tall and wide as you can afford. This helps to let out the hot air as well as to let in the breeze. This will also reduce your need for using lights during the day. Larger windows will add to the expense, especially if you plan to put iron bars over them, but weigh the expense against the extra comfort over time.

Plan at least one covered outdoor terraza (facing the direction of the prevailing breeze if possible) and make it bigger than you think you need. Consider a ceiling fan for your terraza, too. Some days are so hot that you will just want to live outside in the shade. One or two electrical outlets in a protected area of the terraza (terrace) are handy to have for a radio or floor fan.

A wide roof overhang helps to block the sun from the windows and help to prevent the rain from entering. To try plan for a few windows that can remain open during rainstorms, such as facing your covered terraza, to keep the house cooler. The weather can be very hot when it rains, too, and having to close all your windows in that heat can be miserable.

Leave as much green space around your house as possible. Concrete absorbs the heat of the sun and retains it for a long time. If you have space for trees on the west side of your house, they will serve to keep your house cooler in the late afternoon, the hottest part of the day.

Plan your construction to allow for runoff from tropical storms. It's a good idea to elevate your home one to two feet or even more above ground level. Make sure that your landscaping slopes away from your home, not towards it and ensure that the water has some place to go! The concrete muros (fences) that are so popular can act like a soup bowl during a tropical storm if proper drainage isn't provided. Be considerate of your neighbors and pedestrians − Don't let your roof or garden drain onto the public sidewalks or your neighbor's property!

After I wrote this, I did a little research to make sure I wasn't giving any bad information. (Don't most people research before they write articles? Ha ha.) I found this excellent Queensland, Australia site that has a lot more information about building in tropical areas. (By the way, I found that my advice was pretty darn good!)

The government of Australia takes energy and water conservation very seriously. Northern Queensland is at about the same latitude as the north coast of Honduras with a similar hot and humid tropical climate. The site mentioned above has numerous links to other energy and water conservation sites. One of the best ones is the Home Consumer Guide.

When reading these pages, just keep in mind that Australia is in the southern hemisphere so where you read "north," you need to think "south" if you are north of the equator.

Enjoy . . . . and you can thank me later!

February 18, 2007

Guns everywhere

Photo La Prensa, Honduras

Everywhere you look in Honduras, you'll see guns. It's kind of shocking at first. Tourists often comment on it. Armed guards are outside banks, grocery stores, other stores, gas stations, restaurants, government offices, hospitals, inside malls, on delivery trucks, you name it. I doubt if you could walk one block anywhere in downtown La Ceiba without seeing a gun.

It's not just guards who have them. I've been surprised several times while talking to a contractor or delivery person to spy a revolver tucked into the waistband of his pants. Banks and even some restaurants use metal detectors or pat the men down before they enter to make sure they aren't 'packing.'

Lots of people keep guns in their homes for protection. The wealthier people have armed guards outside their homes, some only at night, others 24 hours per day.

Honduras just started registering guns about two years ago. They had an amnesty period where a gun could be registered without proving where it was purchased. They kept extending the period over and over but still less than 200,000 guns have been registered.

Estimates are that there are at least 500,000 guns out there. Who knows how accurate that estimate is. The population of Honduras is estimated to be 7.3 million, of which 40% are 14 or younger. If that gun estimate is correct, that means there is roughly one gun for every nine men and women over the age of 14 in this country.

The police are always confiscating arsenals used in drugs-for-guns trades. The confiscated guns usually "disappear" from police or court custody. More than 950 weapons have disappeared from the Supreme Court evidence room in the past few years. Someone made a few bucks there.

You don't just see them. You hear them, too. I hear one or more gunshots just about every day, usually at night.

February 17, 2007

Week one puppy update

One week old chihuahua puppies

Aren't they cute?! They weighed 5 ounces (.14 kg.) when they were born. Today, one week later, they weigh an incredible 11.5 to 13 ounces! (.33 to .37 kg.)

They have more than doubled their weight in one week. The black one is the biggest in weight and length at 7 1/2 inches long (19 cm.). The rest are 7 inches long (17.8 cm.).

We tried to line them up for the pictures. It was like trying to line up a bunch of worms.

The pups don't have their eyes open yet. That should happen next week.

Zoe is the best little mother. She's really doing an excellent job. She doesn't mind when we pick them up but she watches the whole time. If we carry one out of her sight, she follows, looking up at us just to make sure everything is okay.

Zoe hardly ever leaves the box and when she does, you can be assured that they are all fast asleep.

We haven't named them yet.

Sorry for all the gushing about puppies. I'm telling you, if you were here, you would not be able to resist picking them up. They are just too cute!

February 16, 2007

Painting the house


I started this article not too long after I started my blog in July 2006. I was holding off posting it until the painting was finished and now I'm beginning to have my doubts about whether it ever will be!

When we first started painting the outside of the house last summer after months of washing and patching the concrete and caulking the windows, the weather was great, but then the rains came. Everyday, every afternoon, it would rain to one extent or another. One day it came on so suddenly that the paint was washed right off the wall. That was supposed to be the dry season.

Many days we could only get a half day of work done. We were under a lot of pressure to finish because rainy season was right around the corner. Once we finally had some dry weather, I worked 17 long days with only one day off and, boy, was I exhausted! Climbing ladders wears me out.

Long ago we hired a 'professional' painter for the inside of the house. He was a pretty good painter (he learned in the U.S.) but the problem was that he hardly ever came for more than a few hours and left his 15-year-old ayudantes (assistants) to do the work.

They didn't know the first thing about painting and generally just skipped all the preparation work like patching holes and cleaning dust off of the walls. I learned to paint from a real professional and I know that preparation is the most important part. Besides doing sloppy work, they also ruined two expensive leather chairs (that I had covered with plastic) and several other things.

Another thing that I found that all La Ceiba painters insist on doing, even when you buy the paint and tell them not to, is to mix one or two gallons of water in each 5 gallon bucket of paint! Why? I don't know! Of course it ruins the quality of the paint. Even after saying "No water!" twenty times, I still caught them doing that behind my back. I could never convince them that it was a bad thing to do.

When we found out that the painter was stealing our paint (in front of witnesses!) and then, we think, selling it back to us in other containers, that was the last straw. He had to go. I've seen some really bad paint jobs here, so to avoid the frustration with a new painter, I finished the inside myself and we just decided to do the outside ourselves.

El Jefe, Carlos, Yulissa, and I were doing the work. Over time on other projects we taught Carlos how to be a pretty good painter. Yulissa wanted to paint, too, so we let her have a go at it and she wasn't too bad. She was very fast but not so accurate, so Carlos and I did all the detail work. El Jefe, of course, came in at the end when all the preparation and detail work is done to save the day with the roller. For any given area, it seems that the prep work takes three days, the detail work two days, and the actual rolling on of paint about an hour.

What we didn't think about was that parts of our house are so tall that there is virtually no way to reach them, at least not for the preparation or detail work.
We have three ladders, 6 foot, 10 foot, and a 14 foot extension ladder (roughly 2 to 4 m.) that we had to use upside down (standing on the bottom round part of the rungs instead of the top flat part) because one leg is broken off shorter than the other. I wanted to cut off that leg to match the other so we could use it right-side up but it belongs to a neighbor so we couldn't.

Even with all those ladders, we couldn't come even close to reaching the tops of the walls.
El Jefe built a 7 foot (2 m.) tall andamio (scaffold) upon which we put the 14 foot (4 m.) ladder to reach the roof line. Then to do the second story windows (shown below) we stood on boards balanced between the window and the ladder steps. I did parts of the window frames by hanging out of the windows. It was scary but you do what you have to do.

One day the 14-foot crooked ladder which was on top of the andamio slipped sideways. The andamio fell but got jammed into the iron gate which prevented it from falling completely. The bottom of the ladder got jammed into the iron bars of the gate, too, which was the only thing that prevented El Jefe from falling about 16 feet (4.9 m.) to the cement driveway.

He fell about 8 feet (2.4 m.), luckily landing on this teja roof protrusion over the garage.
He was banged up but not too seriously. Of course we had paint everywhere! The paint fell the whole 16 feet (4.9 m.) and splattered everything.

Then we had the bad luck that Carlos quit, after 4 years! A couple of weeks later, Yulissa quit. So now it's just the two of us. I've told you that everything moves more slowly in Honduras, but I don't know if anything moves as slowly as this painting project! And we still have the entire muro (concrete fence) to go.

We quit completely during the rainy season and now we need to finish up all the last details. I also want to do something interesting on the columns like marbleizing them. That will be a big project as we have nine columns and some of them will be very hard − and dangerous − to reach.

I bought the paint a long time ago at Home Depot in the U.S. I wanted something different but I've been really worried about the wild tropical colors that I picked out since I couldn't buy a quart and take it home to try it out.

There are lots of tropical colored houses here, just not three tropical colors in the same house. Most of the well-to-do people have their houses painted sophisticated colors like cream or beige or white.

Our house is definitely one of a kind! I think that in Mexico, our house would fit right in, but here in Honduras, the colors look pretty unusual. We like it, though.

February 15, 2007

More on the mystery jet

Mystery jet in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, photo La Prensa

The mysterious jet abandoned in the Tegucigalpa, Honduras airport on February 24, 2006, was officially auctioned on Tuesday, February 13, 2007, for $736,000. Part of the deal is that the government of Honduras will guarantee clear title to the 1968 Grumman Gulfstream Jet.

So what happened on Wednesday, the day after the auction and almost one year after the jet first appeared in Honduras? The Honduras newspaper, La Prensa, received a letter from an independent Mexican reporter providing new information. La Prensa reported that the old but luxurious jet is collateral for a loan in Mexico. It was brought to Honduras to illegally change the registration papers in order to sell it to a third party.

This new version was confirmed by the Honduran Fiscal General (Attorney General) who says that he has known this for awhile but hasn't revealed it publicly.
The information was also confirmed by a former high level government official who certified the authenticity of the collateral documents last year. He confirmed that the person or company who holds the $900 thousand loan could make a demand of the state for damages.

Why did the government of Honduras proceed with the auction when they knew the plane was collateral for a loan? Why did this information only become public the day after the sale? Why? − This is Honduras.

Later on Wednesday, an indignant President Mel Zelaya insisted that the jet was a result of a failed drug trafficking operation and qualified anyone believing this new story as "estupido" (stupid).
"Estupido" is not a word used lightly in Honduras.

To be continued.....

February 14, 2007

La Gringa saves a bird

Yellow-winged TanagerYellow-winged Tanager

I'm a nervous wreck. Four birds have crashed into my windows this afternoon. Two of them crashed into the window right beside me and I jumped out of my chair each time. It's amazing how a little tiny bird weighing a few ounces can sound like a grown man trying to break a door in.

We used to have this problem often but I think the local birds have gotten smarter. We have tall windows and the sky is reflected in them. It is so sad. Apparently the birds can't tell the difference between the sky and its reflection.

We didn't have windows when we first moved in (haha! − it's true) and I used to have to rescue the birds from inside the house. They would fly in and up to the ceiling and then get exhausted because they couldn't figure a way out. I have a loooong-handled brush thing to get cobwebs off the ceiling and I would stick it up by the birds. They would usually grab onto it and then I'd quickly walk to a window or door and let them loose outside.

I rescued two hummingbirds this way. Once we found a stunned baby owl on the upstairs terraza (terrace). We kept it in an upside laundry basket overnight and let it go the next day.

When we first had the windows installed, it seemed like an almost every day occurrence. Sometimes they were just stunned and after a moment, they would recover and fly away. Too often though, they didn't make it and we would find a poor dead bird laying outside the window.

For the longest time, I didn't see any bird bodies and I mentioned to El Jefe how great it was that the poor birds had finally stopped flying into the windows. He informed me that that wasn't the case. Chloe the Rottweiler was eating them.

So today, I ran to check each time it happened. Twice there was no sign of a bird so it must have flown away. Once I saw it fly away. The fourth time, I saw the poor bird laying stunned on the ground flapping around. Then I saw Chloe heading for it! I jumped out the window to rescue the poor bird. I knew if I went out the door and around to the window it would be too late.

That is the bird in the picture above. It appears to be a juvenile Yellow-winged Tanager, which is resident here on the north coast of Honduras. That little yellow mark above my ring finger is the key identifier of Yellow-winged Tanagers. The head and shoulders were a beautiful lavender-blue which really don't show up in this picture very well.

I put Chloe inside and took the bird out in back. While I was trying to figure out where to put it so it would be safe until it recovered, it flew away. Hooray! It seemed to be okay.

February 13, 2007

Just say no to loans

We have bought seven bicycles since we came to Honduras and none of them were for us. Three were gifts to sobrinos (nephews and nieces) and four were loans to employees. It seemed a good way to help out the employees. We were partly lucky and partly wise, and we were repaid for these loans.

Other loans or advances on salaries haven't worked out so well. An old friend of El Jefe's asked for a loan of L.1,000 once to help his mother who was in a bad situation. I suggested that we just give him the money and forget about it. El Jefe didn't want to do that, so he made the loan. We never received even one lempira back. To me that shows a lack of honor. We would have been happy if he had even paid L.10 lempiras a week, just something to show that he valued our friendship and respected us. But .... nothing.

One worker came to us on a payday almost in tears. His father was in the hospital. He needed to buy medicine for him. His pay wasn't enough. Could he have a loan of L.500? He was so sad and so humble, of course we couldn't refuse. That was the last time we saw him. He didn't come back to work on Monday and of course, never paid back a centavo of the loan.

One maid had me in tears, telling me about how she had to move her children to her mother's house because her roof was leaking so badly, the children's bed was soaked, and they were sick. She wanted to borrow money to buy laminas (sheets of metal roofing material) to repair her roof. El Jefe was absolutely against it but I insisted that I wanted to help her and he finally relented.

I excitedly went to tell her. I said that we could order the laminas at a discount at the ferreteria (hardware store) that we used and even have them delivered to her home. There was a long pause, some eye shifting, then ".... Uh.....ummm.... no, the money is better." El Jefe was right; it was a scam. She quit shortly after that. Apparently, she had been expecting to take the proceeds from an unpaid loan with her when she left.

We've had employees "forget" they had a loan, insist they already paid it back, argue about how much they owe, and get angry because we actually expected them to make a payment on their loan each week. El Jefe says that to make a loan is to make a new enemy.

We have been asked for loans from employees, former employees, contractors, friends, distant relatives, neighbors, and even the water man (to buy a new truck!). Now we just say no!

February 11, 2007

Miracle Fruit, matasabor

Miracle Fruit, Sideroxylon dulcificum, from Wikipedia

Matasabor is the Honduran common name given to Sideroxylon dulcificum. In English, matasabor means kill the flavor. And that's just what this plant does. It's called Miracle Fruit in much of the world because of its magical power to make sour things taste sweet. The berry itself is not sweet and it doesn't make sweet things taste sweeter.

A commenter sent me
a link to plant called Miracle Fruit and asked if I had ever heard about it. Not only had I heard about it, but I have one! I had completely forgotten about it. Right now it is covered by elephant ears that have grown out of control. I think it needs more sun to produce the flowers and fruit.

Wikipedia has a short article about Miracle Fruit, an exotic tropical plant native to West Africa. Attempts have been made to commercialize it for sweetening foods for diabetics but to date none have been successful. It is also used for masking the bitter taste of medicines. The effect of chewing the berry lasts only for 30 minutes to 2 hours and is effective only when the berry is fresh.

La Gringa's neglected matasabor, Miracle Fruit

I can't even remember what the fruit tasted like. What I do remember is that after we tasted the fruit, the vivero (nursery) owner cut a lemon in half and gave it to us. We ate the lemon and it tasted delicious, as sweet as an orange.

The plant is an undistinguised shrub with small red berries. We just had to have it, though, for its novelty. Being a tropical plant, it will only grow in USDA Zones 10-11 and likes an acid soil and high humidity.
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