December 8, 2007

La Gringa's first month in Honduras

one lane wood bridge, El Porvenir, Honduras
The bridge to El Porvenir, Honduras

When we very first moved to Honduras in 2001, we stayed with El Jefe's mother for about a month in El Porvenir, a small town outside of La Ceiba with dusty, gravel streets.

I don't want to clutter up this article with all the details of our arrival and how I broke down and cried in the airport before I had even set foot on Honduran soil, and how awful government dealings were, how many wasted trips to Tegucigalpa and Puerto Cortés were made, how the Houston Honduran Consulate had given us BAD INFORMATION ABOUT EVERYTHING, and HOW INEPT AND CORRUPT THE ADUANA WAS IN PUERTO CORTÉS, but suffice it to say, I was going through major, triple by-pass culture shock.

El Jefe's mother is a super nice lady and her house is nice, but you know how unrelaxed you can feel living in someone else's house, especially someone you've only spent a few hours with a few times before. This was made even worse by not being able to communicate with her and say all those polite and grateful things that you do when you are a guest in someone's home. "Gracias" doesn't quite communicate all those little niceties.

Then there was living out of a suitcase, all the dust, the heat, the humidity, eating strange foods soaked in grease, not speaking the language, all the dust, not knowing the procedures for getting things done, having every person we needed to deal with saying "no hay, no puede, no esta" (there aren't any, you can't, he's not here), the dust, being treated by bank and store clerks like we were some flea-ridden street dogs who had wandered in uninvited (and me thinking, "Man, and everyone was so nice when I was here on vacation!), not being able to find places where we needed to go or having them closed when we got there, the heat, the humidity, all the dust, the totally different culture which, incidentally, seemed to have changed into a totally different culture than it was when I was here on vacation, etc., etc.

Then to top off all of that, I got the worst, most painful case of diarrhea that I have ever had in my life while we were in Tegucigalpa trying to get import permits for my dogs, which the Houston Consulate had assured us that we wouldn't need, so my 14-year-old dogs wouldn't be jerked from my arms and put into quarantine to surely die a horrible death thinking that I had abandoned them in a strange country. We are talking doubled-over-in-pain-and-trying-not-to -scream-because-it-would-hurt-too-much diarrhea.

We had to make a five hour drive back to La Ceiba and I couldn't take a sip of water without having to rush to the bathroom. El Jefe was begging, pleading, and bribing to try to get the permits in one day, a near impossible feat, while I sat, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip with some of the smelliest men I have ever met in my life. I sat among 20 people in a crowded waiting room, crying in public and moaning with pain, sure that I was going to pass out on the floor.

I was glad I didn't live in Tegus and would never see those people again. La Ceiba is a small town and I would probably still be meeting people who would be saying, "Oh, you are that lady that sat crying in the government office."

Oh, and did I ever mention that the hotel where we were staying in Tegus would not give us more toilet paper for the room? It seems I had used our quota of one-quarter roll and that's that. Period. El Jefe's pleas that his wife was sick, that he would pay for the toilet paper, and to have some sympathy fell on deaf ears. Rules are rules.

If I had been there, I probably would have jumped across the counter to strangle the guy and spent the rest of my life in a Honduran prison, but I was upstairs because I could never be more than 90 seconds away from the toilet. El Jefe went out and found a store to buy some toilet paper and medicine for me. We needed our own roll anyway as I had already discovered that the majority of the restaurants and gas stations do not provide toilet paper either.

We made it back home with only a few close calls. But then for the cherry on top of this Honduran sundae, at that time El Porvenir only had running water for an hour per day. If you weren't there to fill your pila (large concrete sink) and buckets during that hour (which seemed to change every day just to keep you on your toes), you were out of luck until the next day. Then to top off that, I got bronchitis and went to three different doctors over the month before I found one who prescribed something that worked.

So....are you getting the picture here? Besides all the problems that I couldn't do anything about because I didn't know anything about anything and couldn't even speak the language, I was hot and sweaty with dust sticking to every inch of me − unless it was running in grey rivulets down my face, neck, and body − with no water for a shower. I had a month-long case of diarrhea and couldn't flush the toilet of the house in which I was a guest. I seriously thought that I would have to give up wearing contact lens because I spent every waking hour trying to get the dust particles out of my eyes. I'm blind as a bat without them and my backup glasses were broken.

I literally cried every single day for an entire month. El Jefe stood around wringing his hands, completely helpless to do anything about it, thinking WTF have we done coming here?, and only rarely saying, "I told you so."

Well, one day I was home by myself. Everyone had gone to town and I was just too sick to go. I was laying on the bed, no doubt crying, when I heard the burst of water from the shower faucet. (When they don't know when the water will come, people leave the faucets turned on to let them know or to at least fill the one bucket that is kept under the faucet in case they aren't there.)

I was ecstatic! I leaped out of bed, grabbing some clean clothes, planning to jump in the shower. "Wait!" I thought. I have to fill the pila and the other buckets so there will be water for the rest of the day. We needed a lot of buckets for my toilet flushing.

So I ran around the house, plugging the pila drain and turning on the faucet, putting buckets under every faucet. Water! Wonderful cold water! Not clean water, but at least cold.

I happily made my rounds, moving the full buckets out of the way and filling up the new ones, all the while thinking that this was going to feel like the best shower I ever had in my life. At that time, I was usually in Spanish school every day when the water came so it had been five days of bucket baths since I'd had a real shower and a thorough shampoo. Oh! I couldn't wait!

Finally, the pila was full, all the buckets were full. I thought that El Jefe would be so proud that I didn't act on my first selfish gringa instinct to take a shower. Now was the time. Running water! A real shower. What more could you ask for! I needed a shower more than ever from all that running around and moving heavy 5-gallon buckets. I didn't even care that it was going to be an ice cold shower. I took off my clothes, stepped in the shower, turned it on, and....


The water was gone.
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