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Paraguay Blog #5: Fish Soup


January 16, Monday

Moringa Oleifera: Ooooh... Aaaah... (Click the pic to read about its uses.)

Yesterday was “Tour Itauguá” day, so that’s what we did. Neat little town. We hit up a place I’m sure is pretty popular with all us tourist-types since it had such a wide variety of Paraguayan art and souvenirs, but we were a bit put off by some of the prices so we didn’t buy anything. The guy wanted 300 mil Gs ($65) for an item I wanted to buy for my mom, but that seemed a little high. Christie took us to another place a little farther down the road so we could shop  from a friend of hers, a charming 71 year old woman you’d swear was 10 years younger, who was selling the exact same item for $28. Score!

And because she could clearly be trusted more than Señor Gringo-Tax at the first place, I decided to also buy a bag of miracle tea- she swears by it- from her for a measly $2.60. Because really: What price miracles? I’ll let you know how all of our various ailments are faring after we’ve had a chance to take it for a whirl.

We pressed on in our Itauguá jaunt, stopping for ice cream at a place I’d eat all my meals if I lived near there, before landing in a plaza outside a beautiful white cathedral. It was so nice to be able to sit and people-watch for a bit. Some of the people available to watch actually put on quite the show!

Cool. And also Ouch.

There was a group of about 10 or so young people out practicing flips and handstands and the like on a lawn across from us. You’ve never seen so many double jointed, upside down, spinning sideways in mid-air young people in your life outside of a circus. At which you were hallucinating. Perhaps on Moringa Oleifera. I’m sorry we’ll miss whatever they were practicing for; no doubt it will be awesome.

We got home, did… some stuff… probably… Man I was so tired most of the day I really don’t remember how the rest of the evening played out. Was last night the night I joined Camille by the cancha for a little while to watch the kids play volleyball, or was that the night before? All I know is I ended last night early with a Benadryl for my bites and my itchy eyes, and then a luxurious crawl into bed- –

– -interrupted by an update that the groundskeeper here, a 23 year old charmer who likes to “practice his English” with the interns here, had just brought me a bowl of homemade fish soup.

Fish soup.

It’s cream based, and the fish in it are described locally as being like vegetarian piranhas because they look just like piranhas but they feed on plants.

Fish. Soup.

I just about died laughing. I was so glad I’m sharing a room with Camille (15) and Caroline (13) on this trip because it was such a pleasure being able to share the laughter and ridiculousness of Fish. Soup. with two people I knew would find it as giggle-inducing as I did.

I haven’t tried the soup yet (I was already in bed when he brought it by just after 10 pm, and I had other leftovers to work through today), but I’m told this boy is quite the cook and that his soup is delicious. I guess when you have to make a pot every time there’s a new intern you get plenty of practice…

January 17, Tuesday

We hit the road for Asuncion this morning, with a pre-city stop off in Areguá. It didn’t result in any purchases- that had been the plan; it’s the home of a particular shop I’m trying to find- but it was a nice drive regardless with some great views of the lake and lots of colorful roadside stands to get me thinking on what I might want to take home to the fam.

Somehow I got video of Camille's birthday dance, but no photos. So instead, please enjoy this picture of my fried mandioca.

Back on track we stopped at a cambio house at Shopping del Sol, then went to TGIFridays for their lunch special. $6.50 got me a fried mandioca appetizer, a fettucine alfredo entree, one of their “dessert shooter” things, and a guarana. Bring it on, man. I’m ready! Christie told our server it’s Camille’s 15th birthday, so her lunch concluded with an ice cream and brownie dessert.

And a chicken dance. Of which I have video.

Christie apologized for suggesting American food since somehow we keep ending up chowing down on some pretty US-style dishes. My meals have been more conventionally American over the past week than they probably have been over the past 6 months! But prices like that can’t be beat when you’re trying to find a place to feed five people with different tastes, and it’s not the norm for them, so I hopped right on board! You know me: Always ready to make the big sacrifices. Heh. ;)

Next order of business: The Tour…

A Tour Of Ruth’s Childhood As Dictated By A Google Map Of Uncertain Accuracy

Doesn't that face just scream "Native American"? And "Bookclubasaurus"?

Back in the day my family attended a church in Asunción called Centro Familiar de Adoración, so I added that church to my map of must-sees for this here Paraguayan Adventure. There was a “Parade of Nations” event there one night back then, and all the kids were asked to wear a costume for it representing the native population of their home country, or of another country if there were too many of us showing up in traditional Paraguayan garb. That is how I came to be a representative of the native peoples of the US, in my blonde braids and my fringed dress, accented by an enormous American flag and a Guarani necklace we probably bought from a street vendor at the Expo in Loma Pyta.

We drove past CFA‘s new location first, but not intentionally. It just sorta popped up. We passed by it pretty quickly on our way to see the old location- the one my family went to- but the address I got online for that didn’t turn up anything that meant anything to anybody in the car, so we continued on our way.

The next stop on the TORCADBAGMOUA was the house my family lived in when we first moved to Asuncion in July 1990. It was a little tricky finding the right street- the area has gotten so built up- but we did eventually come to it. And sure enough, there was the house. I wouldn’t have recognized it if I hadn’t remembered the house number and seen it written there out front.

360 Aca Caraya, Asunción, PY

I hopped out and snapped a pic from across the street, then walked up to the front gate to see if I could get a pic of the front of the house through the bars. I clapped to see if the current residents were home; maybe I could step inside the gate, too? But there was no answer. I thought about ringing the bell when I heard a noise coming from the patio area outside the kitchen, followed by total silence. Maybe no one was home and something had simply fallen? No matter. I’ll get a pic from between the bars and be on my way. Caroline joined me outside at that point and rang the bell for me anyhow. Doesn’t hurt to try, right? Yeah… right…

The empleada poked her head out of her living quarters to the right of the car port, and put on her “shocked and appalled” face for the duration of her dealings with me.

“Is the lady of the house home?”
“No.”
“My family lived in this house when I was a little girl. Can I take a picture of the front of the house from here outside the gate?”
“No.”
“Not even just from right here? I don’t need to come in. I just want a picture of the front of the house. Just by the door.”
“No.”

Why didn’t I take it right away? I should’ve. I was about to! Before Super Commando Mega-Maid came out. Doggonit.

“Thanks anyway…”

Sometimes memories are clearer than reality. Are they better?

And then I snapped a kind of crooked, blurry one anyhow as I stepped away, because I’m a fat, greedy, war-mongering American and we do shockingly and appallingly evil things like take pictures of houses while standing on public property.

The whole thing made me feel all kinds of sad. For 18 years I’ve wanted to see that house again, to test my memory as much as for anything else. And there I was so close to a place I once felt so at home, so full of life, so wrapped up in adventure, and now it’s serviced by a woman who is afraid to let me take a picture of the outside of it from out on the street. I understand. It’s not her house, she has to answer to the lady of the house about the decisions she makes, and I’m just some stranger with a questionable accent.

It was still sad.

Next up we hit the road for our third house on a tiny street off Sacramento between España and my old school, Asunción Christian Academy. There are only two streets that fit that bill, but I didn’t remember which one. It turned out the first one we tried wasn’t it, and the second one has been incorporated into a gated community with a guard house. Oops. So much for seeing house number three!

212 Mandeyupecua, Loma Pyta, PY

Our final planned stop was my family’s second house, in Loma Pyta, and wouldn’t you know it was right where I thought it’d be and nobody came out and yelled at me when I took a picture of it? I didn’t even get an earful when Camille offered to take a picture of me standing in front of it! But all these near-misses on finding places I couldn’t quite map out, and the cool reception at the first house, kept my eagerness at bay, so I refrained from attempting to ask for anything more of the house’s current residents.

Oh but that street! It was just how I remembered it! Right down to the neighbors’ houses alongside and across the street! There was the “overgrown lot” next door, now pared back some, and the house across the way where the man who lived there watered his flowers every evening after dinner, and the despensa where my friend Liliana lived. It was even still the same shade of pre-Tigo blue.

My “known” map points reached, we set off for Shopping Mariano, a relatively new mall there in Loma Pyta a few kilometers past the Expo center. We wandered around in the air conditioning a bit, looked for sneakers for Camille, and picked up a knee brace for Christie.

The food court. *food court... food court...* Echo! *echo... echo...*

It was a lovely mall- albeit a bit deserted- but somehow it felt… awkward? Maybe I’m just used to pushy shop keepers, but the entire time not one store employee said anything more to me than “Gracias,” and that was only after I said it first– as I was leaving. And I lost count of the number I sent a quick “Hola” to on my way in, only to be met by a quickly averted gaze, followed up by looks of either annoyance, distaste, or distracting apathy. Clearly their paychecks are not commission based…

I couldn’t figure out if their responses were the norm or not since only twice were we in stores with other patrons, (Like I said: Deserted.) and those were department stores so I couldn’t make any direct comparisons. And if their responses to me were not the norm, if they really do talk to shoppers, why the cold shoulder no matter how warm or small my own smile? Is it simply a cultural difference and shop keepers at the malls here simply don’t talk to patrons as a general rule?

Whatever the reason, it was unnerving.

But then why do I remember more conversations between my family and strangers? More greetings? More smiles? Surely the fact that I remember so many so clearly means they really happened, right? So where did they go?

Or maybe it’s me. Maybe a big, blonde, North American adult really is that much less welcome a presence than a round-cheeked, blonde, North American child of ten. I mean heck: I’d rather hang out with 10 year old me…

On our drive back home to Itauguá I decided to grab some video footage of Ruta 9 when we stopped at a traffic light and I realized CFA II, my family’s second church in Paraguay, was right there in my view finder!

Centro Familiar de Adoración II, Loma Pyta, PY

I snapped as many pics as I could before the light changed. What a sight to see! My dad helped build that church, joined at one point by a group of his construction buddies from our old church in Chicago. Even my sibs and I got to lend a hand once or twice in splitting tiles, tamping down rocks and dirt– you know: kid stuff.

When we left Paraguay to move back to the States I think the church still had a dirt floor throughout most of the building, the walls were all exposed brick, and there were no lights in the “bathrooms.” But now? Wow how it has grown! And hopefully not just in the areas of flooring, paint, and stucco. ;)

He is just a poor boy, though his story's seldom told...

So here I sit, blogging at the kitchen table of this amazing family, their amazing dog alternately pacing and resting his head in my lap, fans whirring all around me, children laughing in the dimly lit yard outside, a bowl of fish soup waiting for me in the fridge…

…and I don’t know what to think. I’ve forgotten how. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to think ahead, to plan for tomorrow. I’ve lived so long by myself, for myself, with no changes in sight, that even though I have this vague notion that I could really “rise up,” so to speak, with all this at my back, I find I haven’t the faintest idea how to do so.

Or what that would look like.

Or if I even want to.

Writing on the wall and flashing neon arrows welcome.

Paraguay Blog #2: Fixin’ to Ride


Cast of Characters
Ken and Christie Hagerman: My hosts. They live in Itaugua on the grounds of Hogar Ganar with their daughters Camille and Caroline
Julie and Norberto Kurrle: A couple homesteading on the outskirts of Obligado with their four year old son Timmy
The R’s: A couple studying Guarani and agriculture in Obligado with their three kids

(Click here for the previous post in the series.)

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Arriving at the airport in Asuncion

For the life of me I can’t figure out how to start blogging about my trip to Paraguay. Being here feels so normal I hardly know what would be good to share. Of course half the roads are dirt or cobblestone. Of course the milk comes in bags. Of course you don’t flush the toilet paper.

Is that interesting? Is that news? Is that blog-worthy??

I’ve never traveled anywhere that felt so beautifully underwhelming in spite of its uniqueness, its novelty, its quirks. It’s not that being here feels anything like being at home in Wisconsin. It’s just that with the way it feels so familiar- even after nineteen years’ absence- I almost feel like I’ve simply taken a road trip to Oregon or the Wisconsin Dells; it’s all just different-ish

As I’m writing this I’m at the top of my fourth day here. We’re at the R’s apartment and some time around 11:30 this morning we’ll be heading to the beach in Bella Vista for an extended test of SPF 45, and an asado.

A real asado. It’s been so long. Good Lord I’ve missed this food.

The menu so far this trip has actually been pretty atypical of Paraguayan food. This morning’s breakfast? Grits and oj. Last night’s dinner? Homemade pizza with a wheat crust (“Wheatza,” Ken calls it), salsa, mozzarella, corn, beets, and palm hearts. Breakfast was homemade bagels; lunch was chicken and chorizo jambalaya.

The R’s are Southerners, for all y’all that didn’t pick that up yet from reading that there menu. They’re this awesome couple in their 20s studying Guarani for two years after a year studying Spanish in Costa Rica. I might have some of these details a bit confused, but I think the way things will work for them is that in about a year they’ll be moving farther into the interior and working with the local folks primarily in the areas of agriculture, conservation, and reforestation. (Read up on the destruction of the San Rafael forest some time. Unbelievably tragic, and much of the damage is irreversible.)

Our first day here in their home, Monday the 9th, they stayed up until 4:30 in the morning watching the Alabama v LSU game, to the tune of purple and gold homemade pizza, and LSU logos on all their kids’ clothes. NFL football means so little to me, and college football even less, but I can tell you that from now on whenever I hear LSU is playing a game, you’d better believe I’ll be rooting for them.

Camille and Caroline had been talking back…

Our second day here, Tuesday the 10th, we spent the morning in nearby Trinidad visiting the ruins of a 17th century Jesuit settlement. It had been at least twenty years since I’d seen them last, and while the ruins haven’t changed much (an added support beam here, a roped off staircase there), the surrounding area has changed immensely. The grounds are now blocked by a gate with a guard house. Before that there’s now a tourism building where you pay to get in (pay to get in?!), a restaurant, AND A TOWN. Luckily it was in the low 100s with a warm breeze and a clear sky so that *some* things still felt familiar.

Then it was back to the apartment for the aforementioned, totally non-Paraguayan gumbo, and an afternoon of relaxed conversation in an unlit living room, bodies sprawled out against the cool of the floor tiles, oscillating fans moving the still summer air from room to room. Afterward the R’s (with their youngest little one), Ken, Christie and I piled into the car for a tour of Obligado and Hohenau, and then the outlying settlements and countryside, including a drive down a long dirt road all the way out to the Río Paraná.

We waved at Argentina, then drove back to the apartment for the beet and palm heart pizza.

You wish you were here.

Carol and me at the beach in San Bernardino

I didn’t start out this far south east. When I first arrived late in the evening on Saturday the 7th I landed in the capital city, Asuncion, where I was greeted at the airport by four smiling Hagermans, complete with signs with my name on them just like in the movies. Now that’s all right. :) They drove us back out to their house where I was finally able to give the girls the books and Skittles I’d been stockpiling for them. We stayed up talking and laughing ’til 4 in the morning. What a great way to start a trip!

Sunday the 8th was a relaxing day spent packing for Monday’s drive, and sitting by the pool at my friend Carol’s house. Carol teaches at Alverno College in Milwaukee and has a home in San Bernardino. I found her through the same place I found Christie back in the day, Expat-Blog.com. It was great getting to finally see her home, to cool off in the pool for a bit, and to walk down to the lake. While at the lake we watched a handful of boys ride bikes down a long pier and off a 6′ high ramp into 3′ deep water. Ask me how much you’d have to pay me to do that. Answer? MORE THAN YOU COULD EVER AFFORD.

My family never spent any time in that area- I think we joined friends there once to swim- so there was a bit of culture shock for me when we rolled into town. The outskirts are pretty normal, but around the lake and the city itself? Phew there’s some money in that town!

Walking to the pond next to Julie’s house

Monday the 9th we packed the car and drove the four or five hours southeast to Obligado, a town near Encarnacion, to see Julie and Norberto Kurrle. Julie and her mother made the sweetest chocolate cake with coconut and pecan icing from the States. We took a walk to the lot next door where we watched the dogs play in the pond- some big ol’ teeth on those dogs- then went back to the house for salad, squash, mashed potatos, chicken, and the best cornbread I think I’ve ever had in my entire life.

I wouldn’t say you should buy a ticket to come here just for her cornbread, but I will say that if you come down here and don’t have her cornbread the trip was wasted.

Guarana, chipitas, mandioca, turrón de maní

After dinner we hit the road for the R’s house in time for the start of the LSU game from a few paragraphs up and… well there we go. All caught up I gues. Bit of a round-a-bout way of telling it, but I think I got it all.

Oh! Except the treats! How did I almost miss those? Geez…

So the two food items I’ve been craving the most since moving back to the States were Guarana (a soda) and a particular brand and type of turrón de maní (a candy). I’ve also had a real hankering for ham and cheese empanadas, chipa, chipitas, sopa paraguaya, mandioca, and dulce de leche. Some things you just remember and then always need, you know?

My first full day in-country I got to enjoy both of my top two mega-craves, and a bag of chipitas. What a great way to start a trip! :D

Honduras Blog #8: Super Gringa


Mimi and Carol at Mall Cascadas

Sunday 8/15/10
Mimi and I waited and waited and waaaaaited until it was late enough in the day to take a taxi down to Burger King for lunch.  Yep. That’s what we refer to down here as a “slow day.”

Things picked up when we got back to the mission house and I got a call from our friend Carol (she and her husband work in child services here) asking if we were free to meet to “talk blog stuff.” (I’m helping them with a blog project.)

YES! YES! WE’RE FREE!! PLEEEEASE COME GET US TO TALK BLOG STUFF!

She said she was excited to get started on their new space here at WordPress, and so was I, so off we went in her truck (with seatbelts!) to Hiper Paiz (the Honduran Walmart) at Mall Cascadas for some quick grocery shopping before settling into a booth at the McDonald’s across the parking lot.

Gotta love free wifi, air conditioning, and the smell of french fries.

Flooding in Tegucigalpa

You don’t gotta love rainstorms on the drive home, however. It was so bad that a huge section of the road collapsed and a guy on a motorcycle ended up lost in a water-filled, 65′ deep sinkhole. This was five days ago and as far as I know the body still hasn’t turned up. And the stories keep rolling in about houses (read: shanties) being caught up in mudslides and rolling down the mountains surrounding the city.

Yeah– bad.

Monday 8/16/10
Monday brought the departure of Krystelle, the mission’s most recent intern. It’s hard to lose somebody so awesome and so willing to help with literally everything that comes up. I am sure she’ll be missed more than I could possibly realize!

The seriousness of the occasion did not, however, keep me from enjoying the ever-loving daylights out of a mocachino from the airport Espresso Americano. I mean– it’s sad and all, but let’s not get crazy and miss an opportunity for some awesome, cheap coffee, right?

Christine and Mimi in an HCA classroom

Post-lunch Mimi and I joined Christine and Rex Morey at Harvest Christian Academy, the bilingual school in Periodista where Christine teaches. Now there are some people who know how to make incredible use of unusually shaped rooms! It’s a gift, and the people at HCA have it in spades.

The building they’re renting for the school wasn’t originally designed to be used as such. Originally it was used as a sort of landing pad for Honduran periodistas (journalists, writers, etc.) Casa Club Periodista, it’s called. Neat place. I’d include links, but they all come with malware warnings. Yeesh.

A view of HCA from the back of the school. I love the architecture-- and their playground!

That said: It makes an awesome school.

It’s got loads of space, an auditorium, yard space for a playground, and a spectacular hill-top view of fields, mountains, hillside colonias, and the airport. If they waved at planes taking off and landing, they’d get a response from every passenger with a window seat. So. Close. Amazing views all around.

School starts this coming week so the place was full of teachers getting their rooms ready for the new year’s students. We got to meet just about everybody there, which I loved, of course. New people? And they teach?! YAY! I just hope there’s no quiz coming up on the names. :S

Welcome to the neighborhood.

After visiting the school we drove over to the ministry center they’re building in Predios de Recreo.

It’s a rough area. When we pulled up to the property’s outside wall Christine shared the very sad story of two young men who were shot at different times right there in that area. Anyone in any neighborhood could provide countless similar stories. We think we know gun violence back in Milwaukee. By comparison: We’ve got nothing on Tegucigalpa.

Rex and Christine Morey at the new ministry center

I’d describe the center, but it’d just be a repetition of the text of the Morey’s website, so here it is in their words. It’s “a three story building that when finished will have an auditorium for 220 or more people, 6 large classrooms, a dividable multipurpose room, administrative area, kitchen, library, computer lab, 2 stories of storage space, 7,000 gallon cistern, restrooms with showers, apartment, soccer field & multi-sport field (3rd story), playground, and a youth room.”

Awesomely multi-purpose. And after having toured more missions, schools, churches, etc. than I can count on this trip, every single room-type listed in that description has me nodding in agreement. Yep, that’s needed, that’s good too, mondo-cistern is a go, playground totally rocks… And as big as it looks and sounds, I can already see it being packed beyond capacity from Day One. Click here if you want to get involved in this truly awesome outreach.

Dinner at Las Tejitas with the Moreys. L to R: Grace, Olivia, Abigail, Christine, Mimi, me, Rex.

From the center we headed over to the Morey’s home for a little mid-afternoon rest out of the sun before going to Las Tejitas for dinner. My dinner was called the Super Gringa. No kidding. It was two tortillas with chicken, guacamole, and beans, and then there was a salsa bar on the lower level of the restaurant. Fun, open air place. Great meat. Yummy salsas. Grainy horchata. I guess it’s Mexican horchata or nothing for this gringa from now on. Those folks know where it’s at and God bless ’em for it.

The internet was down most of the day yesterday due to a thunderstorm that brought internet-blocking rain… lots and lots and lots of rain… so I’m still catching up on internetty stuff. Hope to catch up on the rest of our trip so far by tomorrow afternoon? Sunday maybe? Got to get back on track as we’re only here for six more days. Yipes!

Off to “eat dinner at Marina’s” (read: “gain four pounds”).

Honduras Blog #4: There’s a hole in my bucket


Stepping into my *shower* this morning.

We got city water tonight around 7 pm so I was able to wash my hair after this morning’s “head-dunk-into-a-bucket” shower. Mim and I got a good chuckle out of that one. ;) (Click the picture to the right to read about Tegucigalpa’s water issues.) Now we’re waiting for someone else’s stuff to dry so we can throw our own things into the dryer. It’s good to have clean, dry socks here, folks. Good good good. I sweat right through mine down here and it. is. gross.The solution, of course, would be to just wear flip flops. But I’m not into  easy solutions. They’re just not my bag.

That and 1) I’m bad at navigating rough ground and sloping, broken sidewalks in slippy-slidey shoes, and 2) I don’t want to add my own two instruments to the near constant cacophonous orchestra of flip-flopped foot shuffling you hear down here. It’s an odd sound and you can never quite get away from it. It’s not a bad sound, it’s just like this weird kind of white noise that follows people around wherever they go.

I wish high heels werent so cute. Itd make not wearing them so much easier. :(

Speaking of shoes! Oh wow– I wish I could get pictures of the shoes the women wear here without looking like some kind’a creeper. I’d say about 85% of the women we see walking around down here are wearing 3″+ stilletos with zero support, narrow components, and held in place with the flimsiest of straps. With dresses, with jeans, with sweatpants. Little girls, young women, middle aged women, elderly ladies. The Ubiquitous Heel. Up and down broken sidewalks in a country comprised almost entirely of MOUNTAINS they walk mile after mile each day in shoes lacking enough raw materials to construct a headband, let alone a shoe. How they manage I will never know.

And certainly- any *sexiness* that could potentially be achieved with that look is completely lost on me as it is such a frightening site to behold.

The Phil-Beth-Alan team flew back to Kansas yesterday, which meant a field trip to the airport. There’s a beauty shop there that was advertising $5 manicures, and there’s a team of two men flying in tomorrow. Hmmm… May just have to go along for the ride and get my li’l digits prettied up.

I’ve had four manicures in my life. The first was when I was about 6 or 7 and my Aunt Sharon did my nails for me as a special Sharon-and-Ruth-Day treat. The second was when I was 25 when I was a bridesmaid in my friend Libby’s wedding. The third and fourth were cheap-o deals at paint-and-dash shops during plays at Sunset when I realized at the last minute my nails looked noticeably out of character and had to be fixed quickly so I could go on stage in less time than I’d need to run home and fix ’em myself.

All this to say: I’ve never been much of a manicure kind of girl.

But I’ve also never been much of a “sit around and do nothing while travelling” kind of girl, so if manicures are what come up then by golly manicures are what I’m going to get!

Friday's dinner, left to right: Cheese, beef, chicken, refried beans, tortillas, rice, fried plantain, avocado, tomato & onion "salad" as topping

The other thing to do at the airport (besides browse souvenir stores where most things cost twice what we’d find them for in Valle de Angeles!) is grab a fancy frozen coffee for $1.74. I’ve already bought or been treated by Mimi to three yummy, frozen coffees since arriving here 10 days ago. I don’t go out for coffee that many times in a year in the States! This’ll be a hard treat to leave behind. :S

It’s not all airport glamor, though, folks. We’re not always hanging out around airplanes (I know, right?), running clinics, staring at each other across the sitting room, uploading pictures to Facebook, staring at each other across the dining room, or updating each other on whether or not the toilets can currently be flushed. Sometimes we’re making an outing of walking around the block to the gas station for a sandwich and an ice cream.

And by “sometimes” I mean “once, yesterday.” Donna, her son Stephen, Mimi and I were looking for something to do and settled on hitting up the Dippsa for empanadas, chips, canned fruit juice so concentrated I might be apple-d out for the next three years, and ice cream bars. I would definitely make that li’l journey again. ;)

Blanca and Mimi at Mision Caribe

We, uh, we do do* more than eat here, though. I promise. Yesterday morning Mimi’s dear friend Blanca joined us at the mission to go to church with us at… Oh dear. Now that I’m writing about it I’ve forgotten the name of the church. Nueva Esperanza maybe? Anyway… Blanca, who is now 80 years old, is from Honduras and she and Mimi have been friends for years. Mim was so happy to get to see her on this trip. Seeing the two of them greet each other at the airport when we first arrived was enough to make even me tear up.

The church we went to was just wonderful. The message, the worship service, the prayer time– thought-provoking, powerful stuff. Inspiring, even. While there we got to see another friend of Mim’s, Christine, who started the church with her husband several years ago as a place for young people to hang out, then a Bible study, then– well these things just really grow sometimes you know?

Mimi & Christine at Nueva Esperanza

Christine asked Mim for her help for a minute in their little clinic upstairs, during which time Mim saw they had boxes of donated eyeglasses there on the shelves. Blanca, who has pastored two different churches in her time, is no longer able to read the Bible for herself ever since her own glasses broke. Perfect timing! One donated pair of glasses later and Blanca’s able to read on her own again. :D

In another instance of “hallylooyahthatsneat!” Christine told Mimi about this Laurie woman who’d recently moved down here from the States to work with feeding programs for kids and who goes to their church and works with friends of theirs.

Me: Wait wait wait. Laurie… Is her name Laurie M– by any chance?

Christine: Yes. How did you know? Do you know her?

Me: OHMYGOSHOHMYGOSH! MIMIICANTBELIEVEIT! THISISHER! THISISTHEWOMANWHOSEBLOGIREAD! THISISWHOIWANTEDTOMEET!

That’s more or less how the entire conversation went. I couldn’t believe I’d just stumbled upon an opportunity to meet this woman whose mobile library project has been on my mind since I first found her blog this Spring. How awesome is that?!

10:10 pm. That’s late enough to go to bed, right?

*Hee hee hee! That one’s for you dad!

Honduras Blog #3: At A Glance


Life in the Mission House

Staying at the mission house at Mision Caribe in Tegucigalpa, HN is a far cry from what I’m used to back in Waukesha, WI. There I have a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment all to myself (the ferrets don’t count). Here I live with a big ol’ group of folks, only one of whom I’m related to, where everyone shares a room with at least one other person and a bathroom with at least two. (This is when there isn’t a regular team here. When that’s the case you’re living 6+ to a room/bathroom.)

The People Who Live Here

Krystelle, me, Mariela, Mimi. Taken as Mimi and I prepped for the pharmacy in town to buy more med's for the afternoon's clinic. Just realized I'm the "tall one"...

First there’s the college intern, Krystelle, who I like more and more every time I talk to her. One o’ them smart-and-sweet-and-awesome types. She’s here for a 42 day stint. I’ll be sad to see her go. (Does she look a little like Rachael J. in this photo?)

Then there’s Michael, an early 20-something fella here for about 2 months to conduct surveys on “health behavior” under a university grant. Cool guy. Bakes his own bread.

Then there’s Melissa, who started out as an intern here three years ago and who still lives here at the house, assisting the folks who actually run the place.

Then we’ve got Mark, a guy who’s been here about 6 years helping with anything and everything that comes up.

The People Who’re Staying Here

Mim and I have a room to ourselves, which is awesome and kind of a luxury. There’s a bunk bed in the room which we use to hold our stuff while we sort medicine on the bed we sleep in. Our shared bed is king sized, but it feels like what we’re using are actually two, 3″ deep twin mattresses held together by a king sheet on a metal, king frame.

Melissa, Alan, Phil, and Beth on "the climbing hill" in La Victoria

Then there’s a group of three 1-week visitors from the church sponsoring Melissa; Phil, Alan, and Beth. They got here on Sunday and they’re here to… um… observe stuff. I think. Not really sure so I’ll just leave it at: They’re here to see what the mission does and what it needs.

Finally we have Awesome Donna Pharmacy Queen and her son Stephen. She’s been here several times before for and thought it’d be great for her and her son to spend a month working here at the mission while she’s on summer break from Bible school. Sounds like a good plan to me!

Next up: a friend of Mimi’s named Brenda who will be coming in on Saturday. She and her husband lived here for years and years, and her’s and Mimi’s friendship goes way back to some of Mim’s earliest days here back in the late 90s.

Security

The men loading the supply truck for our trip to La Victoria. You can kind of see the barbed wire on the wall on the right.

The compound (for lack of a less cult-ish sounding word) is surrounded by 7′ high cement walls, topped with three lines of barbed wire, with a security guard manning the office by the front gate during the night. We’re not supposed to leave the compound (there’s that word again…) without a Honduran escort, preferably male.

Apparently there’s a decent chance of getting accosted, mugged, whatever; gringo or not. I imagine it’s a money thing? Honduras is the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. I guess I don’t really need to tempt that reality with afternoon strolls all by my lonesome. Still and all, though: It’d be nice to get out of here just Mimi and me for a change. She said we might be able to go out on our own in a week or two if we take a taxi…

Bathrooms
Honduras is one of those “don’t flush your toilet paper” countries. But don’t worry! There’s a trash can right next to the toilet where you can toss it when you’re done! Kindly wrap it in more t.p. first though, please… We can’t drink the water here (it’s not a weenie American thing; the water has parasites in it and the most common thing we treat are the resultant stomach worms) so every bathroom has a covered water pitcher next to the sink for us to use when we brush our teeth.

We have city water twice a week here, and for the rest of the days we have a water tank we use for showers and cleaning and things. Melissa said she’s not sure how much water is in the tank, but that it’s fairly large and costs about 600 Lps ($31.71) to fill. To conserve the tank water the pump is turned off for a large portion of the day, so before using the toilet you always want to check the tap first to make sure the water’s on so you’ll know if you’ll be following up with a flush or not. And there’s no widow-maker in our particular shower, thank goodness. Though with the constant heat and humidity the idea of a cold shower is rarely an unwelcome one.

Food

There are a couple of ladies who work here at the mission when there are teams staying here and they are all amazing cooks.

Evening meal in La Victoria

Marina fields most of the meals here at the house. Mimi told me before we got here she hoped we’d get to enjoy Marina’s arroz y pollo and there it was our 2nd night in. This is a meal Mimi’s remembered and wanted for the past 5 years and now I know why. Delicious.

Another one of the women, Oneyda, was in charge of cooking the meals while we worked at the clinic out of town. That girl performs miracles. The picture above is of dinner she prepared in La Victoria with Melissa and the lady of the house. (Oneyda’s the one in the blue shirt.) Carne asada cooked on a metal grate over coals on the ground, a pot of refried beans, and juice I didn’t want to drink.

Not because it wasn’t good, or refreshing, or oh so welcome, but because an outhouse in the pitch blackness of Hondurans mountains at night is not a fun place to be any more than absolutely necessary…

Transportation

Traffic leaving Tegucigalpa, HN

So far every time we’ve gone somewhere down here it’s been in the mission’s big white van. One o’ them 15 passenger types. The traffic here is incredible, not because of the density so much as the insanity. Traffic related deaths are sky high, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to get drivers to stay on their own side of the road, use turn signals, or wait until after blind curves (of which there are many as there are mountains EVERYWHERE) to pass another vehicle on the road. Security comes into play here, too, as we are under no circumstances permitted to ride the city buses without a guide– period!

This section wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the airport, which is about 3/4 of a mile from the mission house. You’d think this’d interrupt things more than it does, but with only a few planes landing per day during times we’re actually around (and none at night that I’ve ever heard), it’s really not bad. Still– it’s a little weird opening the front gate and watching planes taxi down the runway…

Church

So far we’ve only been here for one Sunday morning church service, but every day starts with devotions, with a different person sharing something each time.

Playing after service. Abigail, Aileen, Angela, me, David.

I’m dreading my turn. I have zero idea what to talk about. Lots of ideas, sure, but among the many reasons I got out of secondary education in college was that I’m a bit of a dud at preparing stuff like this to share and then, y’know, sharing it. We’ll see how it goes…

Regular church was pretty cool. Lots of songs I recognized so I could hum along until they sang them through enough times for me to pick up the words. One of the guys at the church is retired army so he got up and spoke for a little bit in full military dress. Neat to see the different patches and pins and things. The person who was going to preach that morning was unable to attend so they asked Mim to preach. She was awesome.

After service I was putting away chairs and had my camera with me. I took it out to take a picture of two little girls who’d been sitting with me during service, when one of them asked if she could take my picture with it. Why not? It’s only a digital camera… my baby… eep!

So for the next half hour this 7 year old cutie pie named Rocio ran around the church snapping pics of everything and everyone that caught her eye, including me and the other girl who sat with us, 6 year old Aileen.

Shopping

Frogs for sale in Valle de Angeles

No trips to the grocery store or anything like that for me just yet. Soon hopefully, though. We did get to spend a few hours in Valle de Angeles on Sunday 8/1, however, which was pretty cool. Mimi and I only went into a couple of stores; not really anything different from one to the next and it all costs about the same from one vendor to the next. Lots of cute things, but the kind of stuff that does two things for the person you buy it for back home:

1) It shows them you were thinking of them (which can also be accomplished by emailing them while you’re away), and

2) It takes up storage space in that unused shelf in the hall closet. Not that one; the one you can’t get to because the vacuum’s always in the way and it’s down that hallway nobody ever walks down.

Plaza at Valle de Angeles

Mostly we just strolled about enjoying the sunshine and the fact that we could walk without an escort because of the greater police presence there versus where the mission house is located. Sweet sweet freedom!

We went to a nice little coffee place called Espresso Americano and Mim bought us each a granita de cafe con crema (frozen coffee drinks with whipped cream; only $1.74 a piece!) which we drank while enjoying the breeze and people watching. And boy were there some people to watch… People and dogs.

Across the street from us during our coffee break was a photo op grizzled old man in a cowboy hat, faded pants, and a vest covered in pins, seated at a wooden table nursing a handful of beers. Mimi asked him if she could take his picture and gave him 50 Lps. He said “Of course!” and handed back the money. She took the pic, gave the money back to him, and returned to me.

The Aviator, Valle de Angeles

A moment later he walked over, gave the money back, and told us about himself. Said he used to be a pilot and that now he’s a “newspaper man” living a short way up the street. As he turned to leave I saw one of his tinier pins bore a swastika. Hrm?

Three minutes later he was back again to give Mimi a shot glass with flashing lights in the bottom that turn on when you press against them underneath. You know: For all those shots my grandmother drinks. *hee hee* Maybe she can use it to hold toothpicks…

By far the coolest thing that happened in Valle de Angeles for me, though, was when Mimi and I stepped into Galería Sixtina and found ourselves surrounded by, wow, just the most luscious, extravagantly sensual paintings I’ve ever seen, all by an artist I’d never heard of, Julio Visquerra. I was struck stupid at the sight. I said to Mim it was a shame there weren’t any postcards or something you could buy with any of the paintings on them because they were so lovely and taking photos in the gallery wasn’t allowed.

As we took in the largest of the paintings I noticed a man standing next to me, sort of overseeing the room. I asked if it was his gallery.

Me with Julio Visquerra at Galeria Sixtina

“Yes,” he said. “But just this room. The paintings in the other room are by another artist.”

“Wait– you painted these? These are your paintings?!”

“Yes, yes. All of these here,” he said quietly, motioning toward the beautiful brightness on the walls all around us. The man was Visquerra. I cried!

I hugged this strange, mustachioed man in the middle of an art gallery in Honduras and cried. Not the *big weepy mess* kind of cry, mind you, but definitely the *red cheeked, watery eyed, sniffly* kind of cry. He responded by hugging me back and laughing.

“Do you have anything I can buy? A print? A book? Anything??”

He walked me over to a table with a book on it containing prints of all of his work. I opened the wrapper on the spot and said I was buying it (I had no idea how much it would be) and asked if he’d sign it for me, which he did. Mim even got a picture of us together in front of one of the paintings. He was just so lovely. (You’d love his work, Old Dave. You’d just love it.)

Cheap coffee, amazing art, *leather* frogs… I’d go back to Valle de Angeles. :)

Medical Brigades (aka Clinics) and Visiting Churches

A painting hanging on the wall at the pharmacy. I don't know who it's by but I just loved it. Please leave a comment if you know what this is!

We had our first clinic on Monday afternoon in the village of La Victoria. I believe it’s only about 60 miles outside the city, but it’s up in the mountains on roads that actually merit Hummer ownership, so it took about three and a half hours to get there. But first things first.

For our initial clinic we hit up the pharmacy first to stock up on children’s vitamins (2,000), worm medicine (2,000), and antibiotics (200) for a grand total of 2520 Lps. That’s right, folks. All that medicine for only $133.21. Just incredible.

By the time we got back from the pharmacy everybody was pretty much ready to make the drive out to La Victoria, a mountain village where Mision Caribe established a church. We were told the village (dirt roads connecting one room houses sprinkled across a mountain with no electricity) is only about 60 miles away from the mission house, but the roads we take to get there track back and forth across and around mountains almost the entire distance, and aside from the first 20 miles or so it’s all unpaved and deeply ridged by mudslides, so it took us about three and a half hours to get there.

Mimi and I working at the "clinic" at the church in La Victoria, HN.

Five minutes after we pulled up at the church and unloaded our mattresses and the generator: the sky opened. Great timing! We took advantage of the rain time to get our gear stowed in a corner in the one room church building (cement walls and floor, windows covered by shutters, tin and tile roof) and to begin setting up the clinic. This involved organizing the medicine (all either donated or paid for with donations) on wooden benches, bagging and labeling the de-worming medicine we’d picked up that morning, and arranging chairs and tables for the different stations. (ie. Blood pressure station, Mimi’s visitation table, etc.) And as soon as we opened the doors when the rain stopped: There was our day, waiting for us in a line 200+ people long. Some of them had walked for hours to get there. Lots of mothers with children. All told we saw about 150 people before we ran out of medicine and daylight. (The generator operated lightbulb hanging from the ceiling just wasn’t cutting it.)

Bedding down for the night. L to R: Mimi, Oneyda, Donna, Melissa, Stephen

We closed up shop and walked in complete darkness at 6:30 pm through mud and horse… piles… to a nearby house for dinner (see pic above in the “Food” section), stretched it out as long as we could, and finally made the dark, muddy walk back to the church to get ready for bed. We laid our mattresses out on the floor, covered them in bath towels and throw blankets for warmth, and tried to find ways to keep ourselves occupied until it was late enough to go to sleep.

Around 7:45 the Coleman lantern started to dim, so that put an end to playing cards. The last time I looked at my watch it was 8:22 pm. I think I fell asleep out of sheer boredom and an intense desire to will myself into the next day. I had to go to the bathroom sooooo badly, but nothing could induce me to leave my chilly mattress and brave the muddy path to the pitch black outhouse with it’s seat-less toilet, 1″ of standing water on the floor, and unsee-able mosquitoes in a country plagued with dengue fever.

We were up the next morning at 6 or so, breakfasted around 6:30 next door, hiked up a nearby hill (I didn’t die, but I did need a hand a couple times), had our morning devotions around 7:30, said goodbye to the folks who’d gathered to watch the goings on, and hit the road for San Lorenzo.

Jose Cecilia del Valle in San Lorenzo, HN

We didn’t stay in San Lorenzo very long, maybe 3 or 4 hours. We stopped at the school, Jose Cecilia del Valle, to give the kids some school supplies donated by one of the other missionary’s church. They sang some songs with us (yes there were motions and yes I totally learned the words and sang along and did all the motions!) and the teacher, Olinda, told us a little about herself and the school. She’s got 35 years of teaching under her belt (33 of them at this mountain village school) and is retiring next month.

We were walking out the door to do some home visits of church members when I asked if it was okay if I stayed behind to sit in for the rest of the school day. It’s a one room school house catering to 1st – 6th grades in a mountain village in southern Honduras. How many chances to you get to do something like that, you know?

The 4th and 6th grade boys playing soccer at recess

I think Olinda thought I was a teacher sent to observe how she managed the classroom because whenever a child acted out or answered a question incorrectly her face pleaded with me to understand.

She’d explain “I have so many classes in one room and they are all learning something different at the same time…” Of one first grade girl she said: “This one’s mother had a thyroid problem when she was pregnant with her so I think it’s made her a little, you know *touches her head and frowns* so that’s why she gets so many things wrong.” She said this to me out loud in front of the entire school (17 students) but no one seemed to think anything of it. As for the little girl: Expect her to get some things wrong. It happens when you’re six. No worries! :)

Olinda was great, though; truly. It takes a special kind of person to dedicate themselves to 35 years of service in a country classroom when the money is almost exclusively in the city.

We had lunch (hot dogs with refried beans) at the church around 12:30 and then hit the ol’ road. But not before I got some fun footage of the church there. Maybe I’ll insert that video into this post once I’m back in the States. (The connection here’s a bit slow so upload times aren’t too video friendly.)

Sightseeing

Jesus statue at El Picacho

I don’t know that there are too many things we’ll do with the mission that are exclusively “sightseeing” related activities, though spending a month in a foreign country means everything is sightseeing in one way or another. We did spend a couple hours this afternoon taking a break at Picacho Hill (aka El Picacho), though, and that was pretty cool. El Picacho is home to the zoo (which I’ve been told is a horribly depressing place and by all rights should be closed immediately), a beautiful state park, and an enormous statue of Jesus. The hill overlooks the entire city of Tegucigalpa, so it made for some pretty neat photo opportunities as well. If we’re friends on Facebook you can find a few such pics in my “Honduras 2010” album.

America

You can’t get away from it, even in Honduras. Since arriving we’ve seen the following businesses: True Value Hardware, Sherwin Williams, Midas, Burger King, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Dunkin Donuts, Wendy’s, Quizno’s, Subway, Applebees, KFC, Popeye’s, Baskin-Robbins, Church’s Chicken, TCBY, Domino’s, Little Caesar’s, and TGI Friday’s.

*****

It has taken me four days to write this post. A mission house is a busy, busy place sometimes! I realize I’ve probably made this thing a nightmare in terms of loading times what with all these photos. Sorry ’bout that. :S Hopefully the next one won’t share the same burden of having to cram four days’ worth of activities into a single post!

Saint Brigid?


“Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”
John Kenneth Galbraith

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Why isn’t she allowed to say “the Muslim community was “destroying our country and imposing its acts”.” Why must she pay thousands of euros for that?

I don’t care what religion you’re referring to; if you think its presence in your country is an entirely negative one, or perhaps only encourages certain negative things, you MUST say so, because few things in this world- organizations, ideologies, etc.- have such deeply seated, far reaching influence on mankind as his religious beliefs.

I mean– look at this country. Look at all the awful nonsense that’s been pulled since people first landed here, all in the name of the Christian church. I’m a Christian and I have a problem with people doing that, and with the particular things they’re doing. And I expect people who aren’t to have an even bigger problem with that.

They should speak up, and so should I.

And so should Brigitte Bardot.