November 28, 2008

How much is your vote worth?

Distributing ballots in the Honduras primariesDistribution of ballots
Photo: Hondublogs, La Prensa, Honduras

Here in La Ceiba, Honduras, the widely known going rate for a vote in the internal party elections (primaries) this coming Sunday is L.1,000 (US $53). Inflation has struck. The rate was L.500 during the last elections four years ago, though in some parts of the country L.500 will still buy a vote today.

Citizens who protest the corruption by staying at home on election day accomplish nothing. It doesn't even matter if your vote is sold or not, since the parties may steal your ID number and make your vote for you anyway. "Might as well get something out of it" is the usual sentiment.

Accusations also abound that the ID cards are sold by government officials directly to the political parties, effectively cutting out the middle man − the voter! Lower level employees are stuck with the odd bribe, disguised as an "expediting fee", knowing that the voter can still make a profit if he receives his card in time.

What if you vote your conscience and vote for one of the smaller political parties? That is meaningless, too, as deals have already been struck between the election workers of the various political parties. The small parties will "share" their votes among the large Nacionalista and Liberal parties, for a price, of course. I'm not sure of the logistics of this but we aren't talking about a general throwing of political support of behind another party, we are talking about actually using the ID numbers for replacement votes somehow.

If you are really a party man, you can vote early and vote often. Honduras has a manual voting system so it is a simple matter to travel around to every polling place within a reasonable distance and vote over and over again. It's hard to depend upon loyal party voters to do this, though, so virtually every bus and truck in the country has been rented by the political parties to transport voters to one or more polling places on Sunday. Some drivers are paid by the head that they deliver. In some poor areas only a tamale is required to buy the vote. "I'll give you more tamales when I am diputado," says the candidate.

And if all of this fails, the ballots or even the urns can just disappear on their way to the polls or on their way to be counted!

Why would most Hondurans go along with this? Probably not from a belief that their party will change the country, but rather from a belief that as a loyal party member, they themselves will benefit from the corruption, whether it is a car, a job, a contract, a cash payment, a telephone line, or even just a chicken dinner. Most everyone feels entitled to a piece of the corruption pie. And they are considered foolish by their compatriots if they don't take it.

How can Honduras ever become less corrupt if the main requirement, if not only requirement, to win an election is to be more corrupt than the other candidates? Current President Mel Zelaya even had the gumption to admit to the media that his election was a fraud but justified it by saying that all the elections have always been frauds.

I can't wait to read the reports of the international observers who will state that the elections were fair and honest. Twenty-five of them are coming in tomorrow so that should give them plenty of time to figure out Honduras democracy in action. Hah! Idiots.

November 25, 2008

La Gringa's recycled plastic market bag

La Gringa's recycled plastic bag market bag, La Ceiba, HondurasLa Gringa's Recycled Plastic Market Bag

Did I overwhelm you with tips and instructions? I hope not! Recycling your plastic bags by crocheting a market bag is not complicated at all. This pattern uses only the single crochet and chain stitches and one slip stitch. Can't get much easier than that, can it?

Here is a basic pattern which you can make your own by varying the colors, size, and thickness of your plarn (plastic yarn). I used the familiar heavyweight orange and white striped Honduran grocery bags cut in 1 inch loops using the square-knot method. BUT, that is not what I want you to do since I wouldn't wish the torture bag on anyone. Please do read the tips linked below before you start. I want you to have a good experience.

The flimsy, handled grocery bags are much easier to crochet. If you are going to use these bags, I suggest using using 1-2" loops with the square knot method, or 1 1/2 to 2" strips using the single strip methods #2 or #3. An N hook (9 mm.) works well with the square knot double loops. A smaller hook, maybe H or I, will work better with the single strips. A very rough estimate is that you will need 50-60 handled grocery bags.

If you are going to use a heavyweight bag like a department store bag, cut your loops only 1/2" wide for the square knot method or 1/2 to 1" for the other two single strip methods. This market bag used 25 18x24" bags (46x61 cm.), but by using thinner strips, you may need only 15-20 heavyweight bags.

plastic bag crocheted swatchesExperiment with a swatch so you'll have an idea of how your particular bags and choices will vary in size and thickness. The pattern is easy to adjust even for a beginner, since it is based on inches rather than number of stitches.

The swatches in this photo will give you an idea of the effect of different bags and different size plarn and hooks. Click to enlarge any of the photos in your browser.

La Gringa's Basic Market Bag pattern

Make square bottom base: Chain loosely 30 times (approximately 14 inches). This is where you'll adjust to the width of your bag. Add or reduce chains to get the width of the bag that you want −12-16" is good (30-40 cm.)

square base of the plarn bag*Ch 1, turn, sc in each stitch across. Repeat from *, until the bottom base of the bag is 3-4 inches wide (8-10 cm.), or the depth that you want. You'll be crocheting with the right side facing you at all times.

First round of bag sides: Crochet 1 more sc in the corner stitch, sc in each stitch across the short end, *2 sc in the corner stitch, sc in each stitch across. Repeat from * until you have reached the beginning of the first round. No need to slip stitch into the previous row.

Forming the sides of the crocheted plastic bagSubsequent rounds: Sc in each sc around. Repeat until the sides measure about 11 inches tall (28 cm.), or about an inch (2.5 cm.) less than the final height that you want. End at the middle of one of the short sides.

Planning the handles: Lay the bag flat and count the number of stitches showing on one side of the top row. Divide that number by 3 to determine how many stitches in one-third of the top edge (12 stitches in my case).

handle opening: Sc in each stitch across the first one-third, loosely chain 15 skipping the next one-third of the stitches. You'll want the chain to be an inch or two (2.5-5 cm.) longer than the area that you skip. Adjust the length of your chain so that
the size of the handle opening is pleasing to you. Sc in each sc in the final third on that side and first third on the other side. Ch 15 (or the number that you have selected), skipping the next third of top of bag, sc in each sc to beginning of round.

Crocheted plastic bag without edgingForm handle: Sc in each sc and each chain around.

Final 2-3 rounds: Sc in each sc around until the handle is the thickness that you want. On final round, join to beginning sc with a slip stitch. Pull the end through the loop to finish off. On the inside of the bag, neatly weave in 2-3 inches of the plarn tail using a smaller hook. Cut excess.

You are done! Or maybe not....

To edge or not to edge

You can quit here, or if desired, make an edging around the top edge and the handle opening using a complimentary or contrasting color. I found that the top edge gaped open a little more than I liked. To "tighten it up" and to give the bag a more finished look by eliminating the chains showing around the top edge, I used a smaller hook (H in this case) and a single 1" wide piece of plarn cut from only the orange stripes of my bag to crochet a reverse single crochet stitch all around the edges.

Crocheted plastic bag with edgingOriginally, I tried some other edging stitches but none looked right. They all seemed too heavy and bulky for the plastic that I was using. The reverse single crochet in a thinner plarn seemed to cover the edge best on this bag, though I did have to do two stitches in a few spots to get good coverage.

Reverse single crochet is also sometimes called rope edging, crab stitch, or backwards single crochet. It is made by doing a normal single crochet stitch from the front side of your work, but doing it from left to right. It can be a little tricky and if you don't hold your hook right, you'll end up with another row of chains showing at top. Here are two good videos which demonstrate the stitch and show how it should look when completed. Note how loose they hold the loops on the hook.

Reverse single crochet

Crab stitch edging

Crocheted plastic flowerYou can also decorate the bag with something cute or kitschy, like a crocheted flower, star, snowflake, silk flowers, decorative buttons, or whatever strikes your fancy. Use a large blunt needle with upholstery thread or fishing line to attach it to the bag.

Enjoy! And if you have any questions, leave a comment and I'll try to answer right away. I'd love to see your finished bags so if you can send me a photo, that would be great.

By special request, in a later article, I'll post the basic instructions in Spanish, too.

Related articles:

3 methods of making plastic yarn

Tips for avoiding the plastic torture bag

Need more plastic bags! Must have plastic bags!

Sneak preview: The plastic bag bag

November 24, 2008

3 methods of cutting plastic yarn

Plarn, plastic yarn
Balls of plarn (plastic yarn)

Plarn is a clever name for plastic yarn. Plastic isn't really anything like yarn, but the name incorporates the idea that you will be using it for needlework, as strange as that sounds. Before you start cutting, be sure to read the tips in "Tips for avoiding the plastic torture bag." Most importantly, before cutting up all of your plastic bags, cut just a few first and make a small swatch to see how comfortable it is to work with and whether you are getting the size and thickness that you want for your project.

Plastic bag stashSo how do you get from this (your stash of plastic bags) to the plarn shown above? Gather up your bags, a pair of scissors, and a ruler or yardstick. Here are step-by-step instructions to cut plarn in three different ways. Click on any of the photos to show them larger in your browser window.

Method #1 - Loops with square knot

The first method results in a double thickness of plastic so keep that in mind when determining the width to cut the plastic. I don't recommend this method for heavyweight bags. This method is a little faster to cut and after knotting about 10 bags, you'll become a knotting machine and have them connected in no time.

Cut off ends of bagLay down one bag, smooth out the wrinkles and squeeze out the air by running your hand over it from the bottom seam to the top. Fold neatly into thirds.

Cut off the bottom seam and the handles, if any. Fold in half or thirds again so that you have a thickness that will be easy to cut.

Cut off ends of bagLay the folded bag against a yardstick and with scissors make snips to mark your desired cutting lines, for example, every inch or two inches (2.5 or 5 cm.). Even quicker is to snip only every other cut. Pick up the folded bag and hold it carefully to finish cutting the strips apart, eyeballing where to make the center cut if you only marked every other cut. The plastic will slide around a little but don't worry if your strips are not all the exact size.

Pile of plastic loopsYou'll end up with a pile of loops like this. If your plastic bags vary slightly in color or opacity, connect them together randomly so that the difference won't be noticeable. If they are significantly different, you could ball them separately for a striped project.

The loops are connected by making a square knot. No tails to deal with later! Shake out the loops.

square knot step 1Place the end of loop #1 on top of loop #2. In this photo, I'm calling loop #1 (white and blue) the long piece and loop #2 (yellow) the short or new piece. If you've already joined several pieces or have starting making your ball, this will be loop #1 and it will be your stationary side.

square knot step 2Pull the end of loop #2 up and over loop #1 back toward itself.

square knot step 3Feed the other end of loop #2 through the loop you've just made. Now you see why the "long" piece is stationary. It is much quicker to pull one length through to make the knot than to have to pull a long length of plastic.

square knot step 4 Pull gently and evenly to make the knot. Tip: I found that by keeping my thumb in the loop as I pulled helped to make a neater knot. Pull out your thumb just before you finish the knot.

square knot step 5Leave the knot slightly loose as it may need adjustment later as you crochet. Tighten it just before you crochet that section. It may be hard to believe, but the knots are really not noticeable in the end product.

Don't worry. After you do a few of these, it goes really fast.

Method #2 - Long Single Strip

The second method cleverly results in one long piece without knots or joining but requires a little bit more careful cutting. This method is especially good for heavier weight plastic, like department store bags. You could also crochet together two or even three thin strips of different colors for a tweedy or variegated look, but that would probably only work for the thinner plastic and you might want to cut only 1/2" (1.25 cm) strips.

long single strip of plarnStart preparing the bag in the same manner as above (smoothing and folding) but leave about an inch (2.5 cm.) unfolded at the top. Mark and make your cuts but do not cut into the one-inch area at the top of the folded bag.

When you have made all the cuts, shake out the plastic, leaving the cut loops dangling and spread the uncut area over your left hand.

Angle cut for long stripMake an angled cut from the left cut edge of loop #1 at the bottom of your hand to the right edge of loop #1 at the top of your hand.

Make the next cut from the left cut edge of loop #2 at the bottom of your hand to the left cut edge of loop #1 at the top of your hand. Continue in this manner until you have one long strip. It's hard to describe but easy to decipher if you look at this photo.

Method #3 - Joined Single Strips

The third method can be really tedious but I liked it when cutting thinner pieces for the trim work as the knots were virtually indiscernible. This method worked well for all weights of plastic and for odd parts of the bag and flat pieces of plastic that wouldn't work using method 1 or 2.

cut notchPrepare and cut the plastic as in method #1 above, cutting to the desired width and the longest lengths that you can. Fold over about a half-inch (1.25 cm) of the end of one strip and make a short snip in the center of the fold, being careful not to cut through to the end of the plastic. Do this at each end of each piece.

eye of the needleFold one end of the short strip in half lengthwise and poke it through the snipped hole on the long strip (step #1 in the photo) − like you are threading a needle. Pull it through a couple of inches and then fold the other end of the short strip lengthwise and thread it through the hole at the opposite end of the same strip (step #2 in the photo). Pull the short strip completely through the eye. Carefully push the "knot" down and tighten it only enough so that it won't be bulky (step #3).

eye of the needleHere is a closeup in case you are having trouble following my instructions. The long strip is on the left and the short is on the right.

This method makes an almost invisible knot which is good for trim areas or decorations where square knot might be
too bulky and a knot with tails would be more noticeable.

It can also be used for joining pieces made using method #2 above, but remember that you will have to pull the entire length through the "eye".

After you have a long length of plarn, or as you are connecting the pieces, roll it up into a ball. I like to roll mine in balls of 10 bags so that I have an idea of how many I've used and how many more bags I'll need. This also helps to estimate your bag needs on a future project. The yellow ball in the photo at top was 10 bags and the orange ball was only 5. That should have tipped me off that I was getting into the torture bag.

All of these methods can also be used for rag crocheting as well. From the information I've been getting from my readers lately, plastic bags may be becoming extinct in some areas! That's great for the environment and I'm very happy to hear it. I imagine that it will be 50 years before that happens in Honduras, but I'll happily switch to rag crocheting if it does occur in my lifetime.

Related articles:

Tips for avoiding the plastic torture bag

Need more plastic bags! Must have plastic bags!

Sneak preview: The plastic bag bag

Tips for avoiding the plastic torture bag

Honduran plastic bags bagThe Torture bag,

I call this my torture bag as it was pure torture making it. I swear that I'm not exaggerating. If I wasn't so stubborn, I would have never finished this bag. After crocheting for about an hour, my hands and fingers would ache so badly. I measured the height about every inch asking myself, is it done yet?

This plastic is heavy and even though I cut it half the width (1" [2.5 cm.]) of the flimsier bags, it was still too thick. Since I had already cut all the plastic in advance (not following my tip below), I was stuck completing the bag with this same size plarn. Thankfully, El Jefe gave me some fabulous hand and finger massages to try to ease the pain.

Originally I thought that the yellow and white flimsy grocery bags were a little painful to crochet. After doing the orange bag, I realized that those flimsy bags were much easier.

I'll give you my patterns in future article. In the meantime, I thought I would pass on some tips so you won't jump into the project and make the same mistakes that I did.
Here are some tips that I can recommend to you after doing this:

General plastic tips

When using two types of bags that are almost the same color, but not quite, I'd suggest alternating the strips in a random manner as you make the balls of plarn. Making several rows of one shade and then several rows of another slightly different shade or opacity will be noticeable − unless that is the look you are going for. Even white is not always the same white as shown in the photo below.

Different plastic bagsStick to one thickness of plastic if you can. The size and thickness of the stitch will vary with the weight of the plastic, even if the strips are cut to the same size. You might be able to adjust for a heavier plastic by cutting it slightly narrower. Or try mixing the two weights of plastic together randomly as mentioned above.

The unused parts of the plastic bags can be used to stuff toys or outdoor cushions. If the pieces are stuffed into a plastic bag before stuffing the object, it will be semi-waterproof.

Preparing and cutting the plarn

If the bags are really dirty (like fast food ooze or a fried chicken smell), wash them first and hang to dry. Once the strips are crocheted, any gunk in the bag will be sealed up inside the stitch − not nice. Otherwise, I didn't bother to wash them.

Cutting the plarnWhen preparing to cut, lay the bag flat, smooth it from the bottom seam up to squeeze out the air, and fold it neatly. This is just to make your cutting easier and more accurate. Any wrinkles in the bag will not be noticeable in the finished project.

plastic yarn stripsThere are three basic ways to cut and join the plarn (plastic yarn). They each have their advantages and all can be tedious. (Cuesta!) I have so many step by step photos of the plarn preparation that I will include them in a separate article tomorrow.

One good idea is to prepare part of the plarn, work on your project until your hands get sore, then give them a break while you prepare more plarn.

Cut the strips according to the thickness of the plastic and the size of your hook. For example, using an N hook (9 mm.), I cut the normal flimsy, handled grocery bags to about 2" wide (5 cm.). The heavier orange and white standard Honduran bags and heavy department store bags were cut about 1" wide (2.5 cm.). You may cut thinner strips if you will be using a smaller hook. I've started another one using the heavyweight bags and I'm using single 1/2" (1.25 cm.) strips, not doubled − MUCH easier to crochet and the bags go much further! The end product is much more flexible as well. I'm going to experiment with that because I used a ton of bags!

Snip to mark cutsThe measurements of the strips don't have to be exact. I put a ruler, or even better, a yardstick, on top of the folded bag and snipped a short cut to mark the spots. I then picked up the folded bag to cut the folded strips apart. When cutting 1" pieces, I made a snip every two inches and eyeballed the middle of the snips for the 1" cut. I did the same thing for 1/2" pieces.

When using the square knot method of making the plarn, keep the knot loose. You may find that the two sides of the loop don't line up after you crochet it. Loosen the knot, adjust the two sides and pull the knot firmly in the center of the two sides just before you crochet it.

If you have to tie a knot with tails (least desirable method), leave about 1-2" on both ends to be crocheted in. Shorter ends seem to pop loose and stick out.

Crocheting the plastic

Crocheting with plastic takes a lot more effort than with more smooth and flexible yarn. After an hour or two at a time, my hands were tired and achy! Make an effort to relax your hands and try to keep an even, but loose tension in your stitches. Don't make your stitches too tight. When picking up the project after a break, make sure that your tension is the same as the last time or you'll end up with a different size.

Scrub your hook with a plastic scrubby and wash your hands every hour or so if you find that the paint or dye is rubbing off. The paint on some bags rubs off and your hook won't glide easily after awhile. Washing the hook will make a huge difference in the ease with which you can crochet. (Paiz bags were the worst.)

Many patterns call for using a half-double crochet stitch. I found it difficult and tedious to pull three loops through so I used a single crochet stitch. That may be because I generally crochet tight stitches. Half-double crochet stitches seemed an extra effort and extra use of material without much difference in the look or size of the project. Experiment with a small swatch of both stitches to see which is easier for you.

If you have to pull out some stitches, do it slowly, helping each stitch come loose with both hands. If you pull too hard, you may weaken or even tear the plastic strips. Once it is crocheted, though, it is very tough.

Tips for the really anal like me:

Plastic bag stashTo save storage space and organize your stash, lay 10 similar colored bags together and smooth them out into a neat stack. Fold the stack lengthwise in thirds, snip off the handles, if any, and smooth them again from the bottom up to squeeze out the air. Fold in half and stack the various colored bundles vertically in a shopping bag. You'll be amazed at how much less space they take up. It also saves a lot of time when looking for a certain color or "taking inventory" of how much of each color you have.

I roll the plarn into balls of 10 bags so that I have a better idea of how many bags that I will need for future reference on future projects.

Making plarn from plastic bagsKeep in mind that the color will be intensified when the plastic is scrunched up in the stitches. You can see the effect in this photo by comparing the color of the bag with the color of the crocheted project.

Most important of all to avoid the torture bag, before you cut up all of your bags, do a practice swatch of at least 4" square (5 cm.) with the size hook, width of plarn, and stitch pattern that you plan to use. You may find that you want to adjust to a different size hook or thinner plarn. It's tough to change the plarn if you've already cut it. I really regret not doing this on my "torture bag."

3 methods of cutting the plastic yarn

Related articles:

Sneak preview: The plastic bag bag

Need more plastic bags! Must have plastic bags!

November 21, 2008

Need more plastic bags! Must have plastic bags!

The whopper
Finally finished!

So what do you think? Surprised? Trust me, theses bags are even more surprising in person.

I had what seemed like an endless supply of plastic bags. After making these two crocheted market bags, I am dangerously low on bag inventory and eager to make more and more and more plastic bag bags.

The Honduran special
These orange bags will be familiar to those in Honduras

plastic bagsRemember that I started with these?

Would you ever believe that the yellow bag at top is made from 95 (NINETY-FIVE!) plastic bags? Of course, it is quite large, plenty roomy for a beach bag, and larger than I intended. I didn't plan so well on this one. Apparently plastic is lighter than air, because even with 95 bags, it is still extremely light weight.

For the orange bag, I used these familiar striped bags.

The orange and white bag only took 25 large heavyweight plastic bags (18" x 24") and could have been made from fewer bags. I learned a lot from making this bag, which I'll be telling you about.

I took notes all through the process so I could give you the patterns. Of course, if you are smart, you'll probably want to make some changes, since you'll learn from my mistakes.

I have a ton of photos of the process so I'll have to split this up into a few articles. I also have some tips, most of which I haven't read elsewhere or at least I didn't pay enough attention if I did. ;-/

This plastic bag obsession is changing my personality. I find that I'm now very stingy with my plastic bags, reusing trashcan liners instead of throwing them out with the trash so I don't have to "waste" my bags. I also find myself deciding on where to shop based not on prices, but on what color bags they provide. Even more shameful, I've actually stooped to asking the carryout boy at the grocery store to double bag. Remember that I used to complain about how many bags they used every time I went to the store? Heheh. ;-)

If you are in La Ceiba, SAVE YOUR BAGS FOR ME! Anyone have any Diunsa bags laying around?

P.S. If you were inspired to make a plastic shopping bag from my sneak preview article, send me a photo and I'll post it here. I'd love to see what you've done!

November 18, 2008

Chicken soup on a cold day

La Gringa's chicken soup, La Ceiba, HondurasLa Gringa's homemade chicken soup

As Steve from San Pedro mentioned in in his nice comment, "OK, LG, it hasn't rained in over a week. Been sunny and comfortable so no excuses. We miss you." Yes, we did have a week of nice warm weather with the usual bright blue skies. The weather was especially nice as nights were still rather cool − good sleeping weather. I kept meaning to get a photo but now we have another "frente frio" (cold front). I stuck a 5-gallon bucket out in the rain on Saturday and we received 11 1/2 inches of rain (29 cm.) between Saturday and Monday night!

I used to laugh at those weather reports and say they should be called "frentes tibias" (tepid fronts) because the temperature was never below the mid 60's F (16-20 C). I would see people bundled up in sweaters and ski jackets while I was still wearing shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops. Apparently my blood has thinned, because lower 70's and upper 60's does seem cold to me now. I think part of it is because the humidity (95% or so lately during these cold fronts) makes it feel colder. Now El Jefe laughs at me, saying "Remember when you used to say...."

La Gringa's homemade rolls, La Ceiba, HondurasAnyway, the cooler weather is great soup weather. There is nothing like a steaming bowl of soup on a chilly day. Since we don't get many chilly days in La Ceiba, I took the opportunity to make this chicken soup yesterday along with some homemade rolls. Yummy.

There are a million and one chicken soup recipes so I'll just list the veggies that I put in this one. My soup always varies depending upon what vegetables are available and look good.

Green beans
Snow peas
Mini corn on the cob
Red pepper

I served this soup with wild rice for a change of pace. The slightly crunchy texture of the wild rice was a nice contrast. Of course, I boned the chicken before completing the soup. I hope the cold front will last for a couple of days because as you can see from the size of the pot, we'll be eating soup for a few days more.

November 16, 2008

Fresh fish

fresh fish, La Ceiba, HondurasHome delivery

We bought some really fresh fish − probably caught the same morning − from a Garífuna lady who delivers to our neighborhood.

El Jefe saw her entering the colonia one day with a big tub of fish on her head. He asked to buy some but she said they were already spoken for. She delivers by order so J ordered some for a future date.

Garifuna lady with tub on head, La Ceiba, HondurasShe showed up one day with a big tub of fish on her head. Drat! I didn't know or I would have gotten a photo. Just so you can picture it in your mind, she would have looked something like this photo. Hey. I've tried this and it hurts. I don't know how they do it. The towel rolled up into a circle helps to pad and balance the load.

Her husband is a fisherman and she delivers the fish to her customers by bus. I could see from the fish eyes that these were really fresh. It was about 14 pounds of fish for L.700 (about US $37).

The fish were cleaned but not scaled. ;-/ I would gladly pay extra to have them scaled or even filleted. I asked J to ask her if she would be interested in doing that for us next time. Fish is normally cooked whole with the head on here in La Ceiba. I don't much care for eating anything that looks back at me. I'm kind of a wuss that way. But people don't like to waste any meat, so they serve the whole thing.

fresh fish, La Ceiba, HondurasI cooked one of the smaller ones whole (after cutting its head off so it would fit in the pan). The skin was incredibly tough. I didn't know that. So the next one, I filleted. What a job that was. It took me almost 30 minutes. I made kind of mess of it but the eating was much easier. I cut the heads off the larger ones and cut them into two or three meal-sized pieces. I guess I'll try to filet them or at least cut the skin off before I cook the others.

I'm terribly inexperienced with whole fish. I'm so spoiled by the serving-sized steaks and filets that we could get at Whole Foods in the U.S.

Does anyone know what kind of fish these are?

November 15, 2008

Honduran newspapers

La Prensa, HondurasI can never catch up

I like San Pedro Sula, Honduras' La Prensa newspaper. It is a sister newspaper to El Heraldo based in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. I'm disappointed sometimes in thoroughness of the articles. I always have unanswered questions and wonder if they didn't think to ask or whether they were just unable to obtain answers.

Sometimes even with my limited Spanish I find spelling or grammar errors, and their math and statistical abilities definitely are lacking. But I have to give them credit for having the guts to publish some of the articles that they do, the recent investigative reports on narcotrafficking and child abuse in Honduras as examples.

All of the Honduran newspapers are said to be biased. Unfortunately, it is not only political bias, but there are rumors that reporters are actually bought off by third parties to give a story a certain slant, or to not write about it all. Some reporters have been physically threatened and others have become very rich − 'they' say.

Huge government advertising contracts also have the expected affect on the newspaper's point of view. Reporters have the disadvantage that politicians can simply refuse to speak with them, making it very difficult to give a complete and balanced story. The country's defamation laws are barbaric, where maintaining one's "honor" carries more weight by law than the truth in the courts. Truth is not a legal defense!

Right now, La Prensa is on the outs with the current government, so I feel that we are getting more of the nitty-gritty of what is really going on in this country. I suppose that if the nationalists win the next election, I should switch to another newspaper so I don't get the sugar-coated news.

I've read some good articles in La Tribuna, but not enough to even recognize what their leanings are. El Tiempo is a rag which no self-respecting person should read is owned by one of the most powerful people in Honduras and the articles don't always seem to reflect reality. Proceso Digital, an online newspaper, sometimes has some breaking stories, though usually not in-depth. is another online news source, not your typical mainstream media, but often has exposés about corruption and the plight of workers. Honduras This Week is the only English-language newspaper and doesn't cover the daily news.

Every now and then La Prensa really goofs, especially when it comes to statistics. La Prensa needs a math checker. The reporters apparently do not know how to calculate percentages. I've seen some huge errors. The problem is that often they don't print the underlying numbers so all the public has to go on is the stunning headline stating "120% increase in xxxx!" It puts doubts in my mind about other 'facts' that I've read.

One example of math errors was the electric rate increase of a few months ago. Prior to the increases, we paid the state fixed rate per kilowatt hour plus a fuel adjustment of 53% of the fixed rate. In January the fuel adjustment was adjusted upward to 75%. In May, the fuel adjustment was increased again to 120%, representing an overall increase in the cost of electricity to consumers of approximately 44% (220%/153%).

Yes, that is a lot, however, La Prensa published numerous articles in May and June stating that the cost of electricity was going to or had increased by 120%. Absolutely inaccurate. I cringed with embarrassment for them every time I read that.

Another recent article states that the minimum monthly wage for government employees was increasing from L.3,000 lempiras to L.5,500, "which signifies an adjustment of 70%." Nope. One of those numbers is wrong and apparently the newspaper doesn't think it important to check calculations.

The other day, I read an article titled "Honduras − highest fuel prices in Central America". I looked over the tables and with the exception of Panama, Honduras actually had the lowest fuel prices in Central America, not by much, but lower nonetheless. Now that is shoddy reporting or at least shoddy headlining! The point should have been that Honduras had the highest tax rates on gas, but the overall prices were right in line with all the other CA countries.

La Prensa recently redesigned their website and I'm having a lot of problems with that. I'm hoping these are temporary problems, but for now ALL of the links to their archives prior to August 2008 are broken − meaning that the Blogicito now has about 300-400 bad links for which Google will punish ME! They also are not publishing all the printed photos on the website and I can't figure out how to access their photo archives as I had been able to before.

One really interesting change is that they now have is commenting on every article, as well as a "blog" section which gets a lot of participation from readers. This I really like! It's so interesting to me to read a broad range of Honduran opinions on the articles. Also interesting is that my line of thinking is not so different from many of those Honduran readers who comment. I also see that spelling and punctuation is a country-wide issue.

Since Honduras so rarely makes any other country's newspapers unless it is a hurricane, a prison massacre, or a US murder of or by a Honduran, I have to work with what we have, so for now that is La Prensa.

November 4, 2008

Weather - more of the same and I'm cold

We are going to reconstruct"We're going to reconstruct the country."
(In case you don't know, those are hurricane names)
Cartoon by: Dario Banegas, La Prensa, Honduras

The rain, floods, and washing out of roads and bridges continue in Honduras. I put out a 5-gallon bucket to measure the rain - after the worst of it was over - and we've had an additional 10.5 inches of rain in the past 4 days, assuming that Chloe the Rottweiler didn't drink some of it. That much rain is a big problem because the ground is so saturated, the water can only flow to the rivers, which are already overflowing.

The weather has been really cold and wet in La Ceiba and we've barely seen the sun for 2-3 weeks. I've been wearing sweat pants and socks for the past three days and flannel pj's at night. I'm convinced that I have that mental disease - what's it called? SAD? The one where people feel good when the sun shines and are depressed when its cloudy for long periods. Luckily I live in La Ceiba were we normally don't get more than a week or two of this kind of weather each year.

The humidity has ranged from 95-99% for the past two weeks according to my gauge. Everything in my house is molding: furniture, doors, clothes, shoes, light switches, packaged food, the outside of the house, the fence, the sidewalks, and on and on.

I live in a relatively dry house with (crappy, leaky) windows and have warm clothes to wear. Lots of people don't have either. I feel especially depressed in that I believe that these weather disasters and the poor who suffer from them are used to suck more money into the corruptos' hands, without the corresponding help to the poor or improvement to the conditions that cause these problems to start with. I would guess that some of the things that need to be done to prevent these disasters could have been paid for 2-3-4 times by aid from other countries, which is what I think Dario is alluding to in the cartoon above.

You can see some photos from the Trujillo area at Así es la vida, a Peace Corps worker's blog, and Hope for Honduras, a missionary blog. Dave from Helping Honduras Kids sent me this photo.

Cangrejal river road washed out, Honduras
This is − or was − the same road that we traveled in the Cangrejal River road trip series of articles, so if you take a look at those articles, you can see how the road and the river normally looks. Dave, who has lived in La Ceiba for more than 30 years, had this to say:

"This is the Cangrejal river road above Playa Venado (well before El Naranjo). The washout is less serious this time, but for the moment only bikes, motorcycles and pedestrians are able to cross here. Buses and cars are not able to get by, so the people in the cuenca are cut off. There are about 22,000 people that live in the Cangrejal river area. It will take a while before the gov't sends equipment to repair this damage.

"Back in the seventies, it could rain hard for two weeks and the Cangrejal river never came up so fast and furious as it does now with just 16-18 hours of steady rain. Too much deforestation has occurred. Not good news for anyone."

It's all a big depressing mess and now to make matters worse, Tropical Depression 17 is headed for Honduras. It's expecting to become a tropical storm in the next 24-36 hours and may drop 2-3 inches of rain on Honduras, or up to 6 inches, according to the National Hurricane Center.

I'll leave you with this. Read carefully.

Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.
--Douglas Casey, Classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown University

Finally over and just starting here

Cartoon by: Dario Banegas, La Prensa, Honduras

Enough of that political stuff! I'm sick of seeing Obama and McCain on my blog or anywhere else, aren't you? So I closed the polls early. Deal with it. File a complaint.

My official La Gringa election poll for those who couldn't vote ended up with 227 votes of which 52% were for Obama, 35% for McCain, and 11% neither of the above − probably pretty close to what the actual votes will end up being. I was impressed with voter turnout.

(Edit: Well, darn! I tried to close the poll, but Blogger told me it was illegal, so the final result may vary from what I reported above.)

Those of you in the US will finally have a respite from politics and campaigning long?....5 days or so before it starts up again.

Honduras is just gearing up for its elections next year. I read that over 33,000 candidates are vying for around 2,000 elected positions in Honduran government − just goes to show how well-paid and lucrative those jobs are. Surprise, surprise!: Everyone is against corruption. Vote for them so they can be the next corruptos.

One of those running for diputado (congressman), Dario Banegas, is going to be decidedly unpopular with the others as he is calling for diputados' salaries to be reduced from the current L.60,000 per month (US $3,175) to L.3,500 (US $185), the minimum wage. ;-) What poetic justice. I love Dario. He's the cartoonist for La Prensa whose caricatures I often post. He's really good at nailing the target.

The Ceibeño section of La Prensa had an article about two of the La Ceiba mayoral candidates. One of them, who just left a government position as head of the public hospital amidst accusations of corruption (missing equipment and medicines), has a plan to turn the estero (the creek in which the raw sewage floats out to sea) into a tourist attraction.

For all the other big things that the city needs and which have been promised for years and years, like constructing Calle Ocho (8th street) to alleviate the traffic, fixing the sewage system, and rain drainage system which floods the city, he says there is no money and we'll have to get international funds for that.
I'm impressed.

Several mayoral candidates had ads in the newspaper indicating that they are the anti-corruption candidate. One of them apparently didn't proofread his ad or doesn't know how to spell. His motto is "No votes tu voto!" which would mean "Don't vote your vote!" I think what he meant to say was "No botes tu voto!", which means don't throw away your vote. Mixing up 'b's' and 'v's' is a very common spelling mistake. Whatever. It doesn't instill confidence.

I'll leave you with this:

Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.--James Bovard, Civil Libertarian (1994)

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