food

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

I. Love. Aldi.


I’ve shopped at Aldi grocery stores for years. They always have the products I’m looking for, and I know can depend on the quality to be good and the prices to be low. I’m not ready to tattoo their logo across my heart or anything, but they’re definitely my first choice when it comes to grocery shopping.

(Not my only choice, mind you. I’m not some obsessive weirdo about them. They’re just my first (and fourth) choice.)

Because I’m such a fan of their particular shopping-positives, it has always surprised me to hear some of the reasons folks have given me over the years for why they don’t- or won’t- consider shopping there themselves. It’s rarely a matter of the quality of the food, the prices, or the proximity of the nearest location. Those are nays I’d understand. No, it’s generally stuff like:

1) “They make you bring your own bags! That’s so inconvenient! I would never shop at a place where they don’t just give me bags.”

This might be my *favorite* anti-Aldi comment. As the nation moves ever closer to eliminating plastic shopping bags altogether, and as using cloth bags for grocery shopping is one of the few eco-friendly trends that’s actually catching on, this excuse just doesn’t hold up.

Not to mention the fact that by not having to keep a constant supply of bags on hand for free, unlimited distribution to every customer, they’re able to lower their overhead. Any time a company can lower its overhead: be happy! The less it costs them to run their business, the less they have to charge you to keep things going.

And for the record: You don’t have to bring your own bag. You can also buy cheap paper ($0.06), cloth ($1.99), and insulated plastic bags ($0.99) when you check-out, or round up empty pallet boxes from around the store and use those to collect your purchases.

As for the “convenience” argument, personally I like to save my purchased paper Aldi bags inside a larger bag in my trunk at all times so I always have them available in case I decide to pop in to Aldi on an unplanned trip. I store them alongside a few purchased bags you might have, too; my Target bags, Roundy’s bags, Trader Joe’s bags… True those stores don’t *make* patrons buy those bags and will provide freebies no matter how much you’re purchasing. Heck– they’ll even double bag your stuff if you ask ’em to. But then– when you don’t have to buy your own bags it’s hip to buy your own bags.

Go figure.

2) “You have to put a quarter in your cart to use it? That is so lame! Why don’t they just do a better job of collecting carts? And what if I don’t have a quarter with me?!”

This one is generally followed by a series of “Ugh”s and “Guh”s and “Pfffft”s. And for the life of me, *psh*, I can’t understand why.

Want the store to be responsible for collecting carts and returning them to cart corrals at the front of the store? No problem! But keep in mind their operating costs increase when they have to find, hire, pay, train, insure, etc. additional employees to perform that task.

They also have the added cost of buying new carts to replace the ones that don’t get returned. Having to insert that quarter to get the cart in the first place means you’re that much more likely to return it when you’re done so you can get that quarter back.

And it’s impossible to gather every cart as soon as it leaves a patron’s hands after they unload their buys into their vehicles. So the next time some selfish, ignorant, short-sighted, mouth-breather leaves their cart outside their car instead of returning it to a cart corral 10 feet away (can you tell this one really bugs me?), it’s still just as likely to slam into your vehicle even if there are people on staff whose sole occupation is collecting carts. But who’s going to leave their cart out if they have to return it to get their money back?

As for not having a quarter on you– yeah, it’s possible. It’s possible the first time you go to Aldi you might not have a quarter handy. But there will be people all around you with “Aldi quarters” lining their car cup holders. Toss ’em a couple dimes and a nickel and you’ll be on your way. And next time? Next time I guarantee you’ll remember to leave your own “Aldi quarter” in your car for your imminent return trip.

3) “They only accept cash? That’s so stupid! Why would they only accept cash? Don’t they know people only use plastic these days?”

Let’s break this one down a bit:

They don’t “only” accept cash. They accept cash, debit cards, food stamps, and EBT cards. The only things you can’t use are credit cards and checks. The reasoning behind that is that it costs them more to process payments from credit cards and checks because the CC companies charge vendors a fee for every credit card transaction, and because bad checks = Aldi not getting paid the money the check was written for, in addition to the cost of attempting to cash the bad check.

Again: It’s all about lowering their overhead in order to keep customer prices down. If they keep charging you less than everybody else does, you’ll keep coming back. Wild concept, I know.

4) “Those stores are all so tiny, and they don’t have the brands I normally buy. There’s no way they’re going to have what I’m shopping for.”


They’re certainly smaller than your average Mega-Conglomo-Mart, but isn’t that the hip way to shop right now anyway? And no fair railing about the ‘ugliness of corporate America with their SUVs and their over-sized supermarkets and their blah blah blah’ if you’re also the sort to say Aldi stores are too small! Not cool, man. Pick a side.

Besides which: Have you ever been into an Aldi store? They’re not like gas station chip-and-soda aisles, dude. They’re full-sized, fully-stocked grocery stores.

And before you write them off for having a more limited selection than your corner Pick ‘N’ Save or Food-4-Less, take a peek inside to see what they do have. You might just find their 25 varieties of breakfast cereal meet your needs as well as the 60 varieties at your usual grocery store. Especially when you consider the fact that most shoppers aren’t generally found stacking 60 unique boxes of any given product into their carts every time they hit the aisles.

And if you really just are not satisfied with what you bought there, they’ll give you a replacement product AND your money back. That’s not bad, right?

But I digress. Let’s get this “love letter to Aldi” back on a more positive track, shall we?

Before leaving for a month-long missions trip to Honduras this July, I emptied my kitchen of all-things-perishable, and of all-things-I-shouldn’t-be-eating-anyway. I came home to a refrigerator housing six cans of Diet Mt. Dew, a half-filled Brita water pitcher, a seven week old bagel, 12 slices of cheese, and a door full of half-empty* condiment bottles. It was time to do some major grocery shopping, so I paid a visit to the Aldi store on Bluemound in Brookfield, WI.

Twenty minutes after hitting the aisles I was checking out with my 41 items for a total of $66.84. I never leave this place without feeling like some kind of Grocery Shopping Conquistador. Minus the violence, pillaging, disease, and gold-lust.

Today's Aldi Purchases

Pictured: Two Mama Cozzi’s 12″ frozen cheese pizzas ($2.29), four boxes of Ghirardelli‘s Double Chocolate Brownie Mix ($1.99), two avocados ($.49), four plums ($.29), two GIANT nectarines ($.29), a gallon of low fat skim milk ($1.88), flat leaf spinach, hummus, protein bars, two boxes of cereal, tuna fish, yogurt, sliced mushrooms, a pint of grape tomatoes, seven boneless chicken breasts, light salad dressing, three pounds of bananas, broccoli, mixed veggies, mixed salad greens (the good kind, not the *iceburg stems* kind), chocolate yogurt covered raisins, a bag of shredded mozzarella, three pasta mixes, spaghetti-o’s, a loaf of oat bran bread, canned ravioli, 30 kitchen trash bags, an 8-pack of paper towel rolls, and a bottle of Bolthouse Farms Strawberry Banana fruit smoothie ($2.69)

Side note: That particular bottle of juice (same brand, flavor, and size) is “on sale” at Pick ‘N’ Save this week for $4.99 a bottle. I was so stoked at this particular find I had to Tweet the price for use by any fellow Bolthouse loving friends in the Brookfield area. Yeah– the price was that good.

Every piece of fruit I bought today is fresh, firm, and beautifully colored. The spinach and salad greens are clean, healthy looking, and whole. The bread is soft. The hummus is creamy… No cart wranglers, no baggers, no fancy displays. Just affordably priced, quality goods in a clean, bright, well-lit store staffed by friendly people.

Awesome.

*(For the record: I’m not really a “half empty” kind of girl. I just felt bad at my potential over-use of variations of the word “full” in that paragraph. We still friends?)

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!

Wining ‘n’ Dining in Waukesha


Ray’s on South

Ray's on South

Ray's on South

I visited Ray’s for the first time this afternoon and was so pleased with every aspect of the place that I had to write this entry just to have a place to talk about it. So far I can only speak for their Stacked Deli Shaved Roast Beef with provolone and a side of tater tots, but oh those things I would speak are massively flattering. The sandwich was delicious, and the tots were as crunchy and awesome as food should be when it had previously been reduced to little more than a yummy childhood memory. The staff are friendly, the dark wood furniture is gorgeous, the booths are roomy, the bar well appointed, and I believe the place is smoke free. I didn’t see any signs saying as much, but I also didn’t smell any smoke or see any ashtrays. The icing on the cake? Free WiFi! I can’t recommend this place highly enough. Go as soon as you can, and then go back.

Generations at Five Points

Another Waukesha joint I would recommend is the newish Generations tapas bar. Nice little place between Tha Shop and the CricKet store at the 5 point intersection. It’s got a nice, clean feeling atmosphere, and a pretty sweet menu that changes monthly. It’s one of those tidy little places referred to as “chic” by locals who’ve grown tired of having to choose between the area’s competing menus of deep fried bar food. The bartenders know their game so the drinks are well mixed, and the waitstaff are universally friendly. I haven’t tried the food yet but everything I’ve seen looks like a must-try. The specialty martinis veer towards being a bit pricey, but the environment you’re paying to enjoy is a nice one so I’d say it’s worth it for all you martini guys and gals out there. Like Neighbor’s (under the old and the new owners…) it can get a little too loud given the size and shape of the space when there’s live music, but most nights it’s perfect. And at least the music they play there is good.

Chill, Fine Wine & Martinis

Gulden Draak

Gulden Draak

I plan on trying out Chill some time soon. Anybody know anything about it? I didn’t even know it existed until I parked near it today but it looks like a neat little place.

ETA: Had a drink at Chill tonight and it’s definitely worth stopping by if you’re into smoke free locations with architectural character. The overall crowd leaned just north of 40, just south of AARP, and seats about 14 people comfortably. If you’re fortunate enough to be one of those 14 people it’s really quite nice, though with limited floor space it’s not really ideal for standing around. It’s kind of like attending a house party at the home of a college professor who taught a course you never thought you were interesting enough to take. The bar itself is small- about like the stand alone type you might purchase at a high end furniture store to scoot into the corner of a nice sitting room- with room for three chairs, one bartender and a few shelves of high end drinks. I didn’t look at the wine list- because who am I kidding: I know nothing about wine- but the martini specials all sounded yummy. In the end I decided on the Cherry Squirt and it was delish, though a tad strong for my taste. Chill also carries two neat sounding brews I’d never heard of before, each of which weighs in at a hefty 10.5% alcohol: Van Steenberge Brewery’s Gulden Draak and Piraat Ale. The only real downside to the place is that it’s not open very often or for very long; a few hours most week nights, and 6 to 12 on Saturday evenings. If you can get in, however, it’s worth a peek.

Sprizzo Gallery Caffe

Sprizzo Gallery Caffe

Sprizzo Gallery Caffe

Holy cats! I haven’t been inside Sprizzo’s since they moved into their new location across the street from the old one but wow does it look sweet from the outside. And that patio/yard area? I NEED to enjoy a coffee out there some Saturday afternoon this summer. NEED to. I passed by this afternoon during the Art Crawl and my eye was immediately caught  by a series of large paintings they had hung on the outside patio wall. Are those always there? Any for sale? Fun and lovely. The fact that it’s also got that smoke free/free WiFi combo makes it all the more appealing. Oh yeah– and the food’s good too. ;)

In conclusion, check out this super cute slow loris: