Monday, June 30, 2008

I now yield the floor to my colleagues from the states of Florida, Arkansas, and Indiana

Sometimes, other people just say it better than I could. Dave Barry has some great thoughts on moving back in with the 'rents after college and a bit about bugs I find particularly funny during this summer of mosquito battles. And I'm kind of into Bill Clinton (allegedly) saying that Obama could "kiss my ass" if he (B.O.) wants his (B.C.'s) support. I don't have that from a reliable source but it's kind of amusing.

Also, Kurt Vonnegut:

"For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

'Blessed are the merficul' in a courtroom? 'Blessed are the peacemakers' in the Pentagon?"

---from A Man Without a Country

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The little buggers

We are at Brian's family's house at Lake Michigan. Side note: they refer to it as "the cottage" but I find it nearly impossible to do so because when I think "cottage" I think of a quaint, little place, and this is not a little place. To me, this place is a "cottage" only in its second-home and near-the-shoreness. Kind of how "cabin" and "ranch" out west have taken on entirely new meanings as a way to describe mountain homes, vacation homes, what have you. Why do we assign new meanings to these? Is it because it sounds snobby to say "my second home"? And am I the only one who thinks about these things? Is it because I don't even have one house? Who knows? Anyway, none of this is the point, so let's move along, shall we?

Today Brian and I went for a walk down to the beach. The instant we stepped out the door onto the winding little road through the other houses/cottages(which, by the way, was L. Frank Baum's inspiration for the yellow brick road; he used to vacation here in Holland, Michigan -- true story!) (I'm afraid my digressions are pretty much more interesting than my point) I was rudely pursued by mosquitoes, so I whipped out one of my handy pocket Off towelettes and wiped it all over my neck, ankles, wrists, ears, and so on. Every exposed body part, basically.

So, after frolicking on the beach (hello, lighthouse! hello, big dead fish picked clean by gulls!) we walked up the roadlet (not made of yellow brick, by the way -- he was inspired by winding cobblestones) back to the cottage house, and before we went inside we went over to the hose to wash off our feet and flip-flops. Brian turned on the water and I had been standing on the adjacent wet patch of dirt for less than two seconds when I felt the pinch on the middle of my forehead. A mosquito had dive-bombed my one exposed and not-doused-in-repellent patch of skin. Those little monsters! The forehead?! Who gets a mosquito bite in the middle of the forehead?? Then as I washed my feet, no fewer than three of them landed on Brian, ready to attack.

I wonder what it would be like to be a mosquito. I've been thinking about mosquitoes a lot lately, notably during my stint in Honduras, where I was paranoid about them. So what's up with malaria? I mean, how come thes malaria parasites can live in the mosquito (which so lovingly deposits them in us)? How come the disease is fatal to us, but not mosquitoes? Do they even have blood? Is that why they need to suck ours? Why don't I remember these things from, like, junior high biology?

All I know is they bite me.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Our Happenings

Not The Happening, which is starting to get some ridicule in the reviews but which I still want to see. Last night we saw Sex and the City, which I reasonably enjoyed. For me, just as when watching the TV show, there was my enjoyment of Kim Cattrall, and then there's everyone else about sixty-five notches below that.

Heading to Detroit in a few minutes to see the Joes. Yay Joes!

Still reading Lady Chatterley's Lover as, detailed on the literary supplement. It's philosophically interesting! ("I read Playboy for the articles!") No, really though.

We went on a really lovely bike ride around this piece of Grand Rapids neighborhoodness the other evening and I thought I was in a movie about lovely summer evenings.

Soon I will talk about the bunny.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Greyhound doesn't have to suck, but it does

Dateline: Grand Rapids

Because we're cheap broke, it made sense for us to ride the Greyhound on this trip to Michigan. Because we're gainfully unemployed living the life of leisure this summer, we had the time to do so. Now, I am known to be very pro-bus. I have a lot of patience for time, waiting, and entertaining myself on the road (reading, etc.) and I actually have very little patience for people, such as airline passengers who bitch and moan about the airlines all the time for every little thing instead of marvelling at the miracle of flight that gets them across the continent in a mere four hours; I think more people should ride the bus and get a reality check every once in a while. I have been nothing if not thrilled to zip up and down the East Coast (Boston, New York, D.C.) on the bus with their hot fares and convenient schedules.

This trip was longer, of course, but still reasonably comfortable because Brian and I travelled together and thus didn't have that whole sitting-next-to-a-stranger-you-try-very-hard-not-to-touch factor. We left NYC in the late afternoon, said hello to Pittsburgh before midnight, and disembarked in Cleveland for a 3 a.m. transfer.

As I perched atop my big orange bag (an important character in this story) there in the Cleveland bus station line, I even said aloud, "This station is totally filed under Not Terrible." It was clean, well-lit, spacious (I know, right?), and had hot food on the grill served 24 hours. It was 3 a.m., but we could get a burger and fries instead of being subjected to vending machine sandwiches or some such travesty. I sat there and marveled at the wonder that is the Cleveland bus terminal, happily comparing it to less stellar bus stations I'd seen in the past (Port Authority and Des Moines come to mind, among others. Plus, who can forget Adventures in Babysitting and Brenda's jumbo-sized sewer rat?) and I mentally composed a blog entry that would have been titled only the first clause of this post's current title.

But the truth was soon to dawn. So was the dawn, of course. I was tired, but cheerful, as we marched out to our next bus, placed our bags next to the coach (whose compartments weren't yet open) in the bag handlers' queue, and then boarded. I removed contact lenses and slept my way to Detroit. I then stepped into the morning light of the motor city, watched Brian retrieve his suitcase, and watched the ever-dwindling supply of luggage coming out from under the coach that decidedly did NOT include my big orange bag. Nor did it include the bags of two fellow Cleveland-Detroit passengers.

It's hard to know what to emphasize about what happened next. Shall we talk about the fact that there is no reason on this planet for our bags to have not made it? As I mentioned above, I have a lot of sympathy for airlines, who contend with a lot, and little sympathy for people who FREAK out when their bag doesn't follow them to their destination until the next day. The bags have to travel across the airport, make connections, etc. Let's distinguish this, shall we, from Greyhound, who makes us place our bags on the ground NEXT TO THE BUS, then is somehow unable to get all the bags onto the bus which is three feet away.

There is no good reason. <--Note the period.

Shall we talk about the abject cluelessness of the baggage handlers in Detroit, who start throwing around stories about how the bags will come on "the next bus" which will be here "any minute" or maybe "at 11" or god knows when, really...shall we talk about the one whom I asked, "What is your procedure for getting a misplaced bag?" and who answered, "I don't know the procedure. We don't have a 'procedure.'"

Shall we talk about how we had to board our 8 a.m. bus to Grand Rapids, with Brian's bag but without mine, trusting the assurance of the bus driver that my bag was tagged for Grand Rapids so it would eventually show up there? Even though it was now not in Detroit, and according to a customer service person I called in Cleveland no longer there, either?

Or shall we just talk about the fact that it did not, in fact, show up in Grand Rapids on the next bus, or the next bus, or the one after that, or after that ... in fact, we arrived Thursday morning at 11:30 a.m., and while I had packed toothbrush, contact lens case, extra shirt and underwear, and hairbrush in my little backpacklet, I now had nothing to wear to either the Friday night rehearsal dinner nor the Saturday wedding? Nor did I have any make-up...or shoes, let's talk about the shoes. I was wearing Skechers on the bus. And ripped jeans and a ripped Old Navy ribbed tank top.

I think I'd like to go back to the fact that WE ALL PLACED OUR BAGS ON THE GROUND NEXT TO THE BUS, as instructed. That before we left Cleveland I(aisle seat) asked Brian (window seat) if our bags were placed on the bus. That he saw through the window them clearing away the bags and placing them on the bus...but they couldn't fit the last three? Dude, *I* could have fit the last three. (I am a master of using space efficiently.) I just don't think they care. They certainly are the most clueless batch of baggage handlers I've ever seen.

I've been pondering that over the last few days. I've decided that the most desperate people on the planet get jobs as overnight baggage handlers at the Cleveland and Detroit bus terminals. I feel reasonably confident in that conclusion. I think you'd have to be even more desperate than a burger flipper...heavy lifting, crappy hours, nowhere near as good of travel perks as an airline, etc. Not to mention the occasional dregs of society with which you sometimes must contend. Then again, if you are a dreg of society yourself, does it bother you to deal with other dregs? Do you even notice?

Maybe I'm being mean. But I had three weeks worth of clothes, toiletries, cosmetics, shoes for multiple occasions, six dresses from which to choose for the two weddings and one rehearsal dinner we'd be attending... all stuffed in my big orange bag. Which is a magnificent orange bag. Which I love. And which after the fourth or so trip to the Grand Rapids station and the umpteenth phone call to all three stations (not that the people in Detroit ever answered the phone) I'd begun to realize I'd never see again.

Remember how I mentioned in the first paragraph that we're broke? This is not the time I want to buy new clothes. For two nice occasions. And shoes. And deodorant, for god's sake. And so on and so on and so on ... yet, purchase I did. For everything else there's Mastercard, so out came mine and off we went to CVS, Target(skirt and shirt for the rehearsal dinner, underwear), Old Navy(a couple cheap tank tops so as to stop wearing the same outfit around for three days, flip-flops two for five dollars), the fabulous Ladies' Designer Outlet (nice dress for a mere $25, suggested retail $158), Payless (dress shoes, and then a brown and gold purse half off, as I was having a total Carol Brady moment having bought a brown dress...)


Greyhound, I curse you. I curse your idiocy, your terrible attempts at "customer service," your lack of systems for said service, your poor training of workers, and most of all your tolerance of a system that allows for all the bags placed beside the bus to get on except three of them.

I curse you even more because now I'm even more broke than I was.

I turned my cell phone off during the wedding (I really do like the dress I got, at least) and then after arriving at the reception locale I turned it back on, around 5:30 p.m. Saturday, and noticed a voice-mail. Brian, a groomsman, was off with the wedding party in the party van, and I had driven one of the other groomsmen's car from the church to the reception site. My first thought was that something had been left behind or I needed to drive his car somewhere else or something, but what to my wondering ears should appear but "This is lah-dee-dah from Grand Rapids Greyhound; we have a bag that came in for you. You can pick it up anytime between the hours of blah blah blah..."

I think I had almost forgotten. I had already cried over losing all my jeans, tank tops, and shoes I ever wear, over the extra pair of contacts, the necklaces, the skirts, the cloudberry moisturizer; I really had started to contemplate repurchasing my life. Like maybe when my student loan check comes in the fall. And I was totally caught up in wedding mode. And suddenly - yeah.

Brian's dad shared his theory with me: it's all a plot from the Bush administration. A surreptitious economic stimulus package, if you will. They get Greyhound to lose your bag just long enough for you to have to infuse the economy with $100 or more in order to attend the wedding to which you traveled -- and then they deliver the bag.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lil' Do-Gooders

Some of you may recall that my favorite new show is Lil' Bush on Comedy Central. Well, I Netflixed season one and have been enjoying watching it. Yesterday I watched an episode in which the posse (Lil' Bush, Lil' Condi, Lil' Rummy, etc) were helping Lil' Obama build a house for "Homes for Humanity" (long story why they had to help) and they kept trying to figure out why he did it. They kept saying, "So, you're funneling the money into your corporation, right?" or coming up with other selfish reasons to do something, and Lil' Obama kept saying, "No, it's just to build something for a single mom because it's the right thing to do." And the posse just could not wrap their minds around it. It was hilarious. Eventually (spoiler alert!), when Lil' Obama went to go check on something they burned it down because the only thing left they hadn't already asked was insurance fraud, so they thought that had to be it. He was like, "NO you guys!" But, too bad, they gave him his share of the money and off they went.

It was awesome. And timely! Man, I love that show.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bus stop

So, did I tell you about the guy who got his brains blown out? Ha ha, I know I didn't. If I had told this story while I was still in Honduras, certain people I know (hi mom!) would have freaked out with worry. And not without good reason, I'd say. Anyway, what happened was on the Thursday when we left the work site early to go to the home of love and life for the HIV-positive children, ten or so of us piled in The Van but our team leader and another guy went in the pickup truck with Indiana metalhead come-to-Jesus man. Well, the driver of The Van skillfully turned down some streets and soon we pulled up in front of Hogar de Amor y Vida and awaited the others in the pickup. They came and we went inside along our merry touring way.

Little did we know - until that evening - that our driver had steered us away from a sight that come-to-Jesus good ol' boy clearly showed his passengers: a San Pedro Sula city bus passenger who had just been shot to death in the back of the bus. It was apparently very much still an incident in progress. Our team leader described brains on the road. Pleasant, I know.

I know I've mentioned that San Pedro Sula is not a safe place. Gang on gang violence is most of it, and could have been the reason for this kill - retaliation of some sort. The other likely possibility is a certain dastardly thing the Honduran gangs do: board the bus demanding a "tax" from each passenger, and if you don't (or can't) pay up, you may pay with your life. I read in Lonely Planet that the latest president and government are really cracking down on gang activity, and that citizens are content with a few overzealous police crackdown human rights violations if it means stopping the gang violence. Makes sense. It made me so sad there; I'm so pro public transit, but I wouldn't advise anyone to take it there. Only, many people have to. It's just so wrong.

By the way, the buses in Honduras are old norteamericano school buses. Yup - the big yellow buses we ride are sent down there, and you see them cruising all around town with "Ruta 5" or whatever painted over such-and-such unified school district. I know you always wondered what became of your old school bus. Now you know. (And sometimes it sure ain't pretty.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Who goes there?

Ahh, summer. I've been sweltering so much of late, first in Honduras and then back here in a New York 90F heat wave, that today's gorgeous slightly cooler summer evening is taking my breath away. And have I mentioned that we have access to something hardly anyone in New York has, a yard? That's right. Ahhhh....

All I want to do is read. I'm plowing through Darkness at Noon, even as I grapple with the recently completed Infinite Jest; visit my Literary Supplement for such musings.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the characters of Honduras, as promised. I must say that the Global Village team our leader, Michael, assembled was great. Late in the week we talked with him about the assembling-a-team process and he told us he thinks accepting people with zero travel experience is a recipe for disaster. But it wasn't just travel that made our team interesting. First as has been noted we had the two Canadians, including a super-patriotic golf-and-hockey-loving retiree from Alberta via B.C. and an eastern Canada thirtysomething. I like hanging out with Canadians, especially in other countries with lots of United Statesian expats around. I like how much they talk about being Canadian. Of course, they knew as much or more about Hillary and B.O. than half the people here do anyway. (Hillary was totally a theme of our trip, as I have become halfway convinced that the reason I went to Honduras was to avoid being in the U.S. when B.O. claimed the nomination.) Hence our joke that at the Mayan ruins they were going to sacrifice a Canadian and whatnot.

As for the so-called Americans we had twentysomethings, thirtysomethings, a middle-aged married couple, and a Harley-riding retiree from Seattle who had us all in stitches with the crazy stories of his life. There was a lot of sass on this trip, which made me really happy. There was another woman who is a lawyer who reiterated every day that I'm right to not want to work in a law firm. It was a great mix; we might have seemed to be nothing alike, but we had a lot of common ground.

Then there were the people at the build site. The two that stand out the most are more different than night and day. First we met a man from Indiana who used to do a lot of drugs, get in trouble with the law, go to metal concerts, and beat people up. Then he had an epiphany that God wanted him to move to Honduras and build houses for people so now he lives down there, volunteers full time with Habitat, raises money from his old church on holiday trips back home in the U.S., has a pit bull, listens to a lot of metal in his pickup truck, and beats people up. He was a trip. He's also the one who took us to the Hogar de Amor y Vida, the home/school/orphanage place for kids with HIV/AIDS, and he helps them out, too. A lot. Dude is kind of crazy and amazing. We had a cake for his fortieth birthday while he was there. He's married to a Honduran woman. He has many, many stories.

Next there was Maestro. This was the mason (local) in charge of building the house. Really, we were simply there to help him. Our particular mason was a complete and total renaissance man. One member of our group ended up calling him "Comandante." Besides being a skilled mason, Maestro plays several musical instruments and sings in a trio in the evenings, has been arrested for protesting civil rights violations, knows karate, and so on. He didn't speak much English, but I was never more delighted than when I'd be randomly called to translate as one of the sixtysomething team members, who bonded terrifically with 70-year-old Maestro, reached a point where gesturing and caveman-style communication came to an impasse, because invariably this involved getting to find out another fascinating fact. One time Maestro, whose real name is Jorge, responded to being called "Comandante" by reminding us in English, "My name is George." One of our team members said, "Like George Washington." Maestro said, "George Bush!" and then basically had a giggling fit. It spoke volumes.

But my favorite Maestro moment was after fun Harley retiree team member confessed he'd once had a serious crush on Linda Rondstadt. As we continued laying blocks, I started singing "Blue Bayou" softly to myself. Shortly, I heard whistling; someone was accompanying me by whistling the tune. We looked up to discover that it was Maestro, and he said, "Leen-da Rone-stat!" "Si, si, si," I replied, delighted. It was the last day of our build, the next-to-last-day in Honduras, and the lyrics washed over me...what they meant to me, and what they meant to this amazing 70-year-old man, and what strange fate had brought us ever so briefly together.

"I'm going back someday, come what may, to Blue Bayou
Where the folks are fine, and the world is mine, on Blue Bayou
Where those fishing boats, with their sails afloat --
If I could only see
That familiar sun rise, with sleepy eyes
How happy I'd be."

Monday, June 09, 2008

The things they carried

Lots of the time in Honduras people carried weird things. For example, machetes. We were warned before we came that this is a normal tool that many people have, even in urban areas, and we should therefore not be alarmed. So, we weren't alarmed. Right. Lonely Planet told me all about how the guides on hikes in national parks would have them to clear the trail ahead, but we'd also see just your average San Pedro Sulan clearing brush or weeds from a totally urban lot with a machete. AND, our little B&B had a guy that kind of hung around at night, like a security guard, and he had one, too. Although he also did landscaping around the B&B yard during other times of the day...but he definitely had his machete with him while hanging at the gate at night.

There are also normal security guards with guns, of course. If you consider it "normal" to see a man with a rifle or an AK-47 outside of every bank, Western Union, some drugstores, factories...definitely anywhere there was a lot of money...ooh, and even at the gas station. Did I mention this is not considered a safe country? And yes, for what it's worth - and much to my 2nd Amendment chagrin - I felt safer to have the AK-47 men guarding the place. It could just be an illusion of safety, but you definitely had the idea that mega-violence would be unleashed any place there wasn't an armed guard. Like the city bus, for example. But I'll get to that story later. I'm busy talking about carried things.

They also have this thing with serving drinks to go in plastic bags. Not from, like, McDonalds. Not that we ate at McD's, but we did get fast food from the chicken place. They serve cups to go there. And they totally sold bottled water. But sometimes you'd see someone strolling down the road drinking their water from a little plastic bag. I guess it makes sense. I guess? When we went to the Mayan ruins at Copan, strolling around the cobblestoned town afterward I discovered a bar promising the "World Famous Uterus Shots." (Obviously) this place was run by and filled with expats. Four of us strolled up and promptly ordered them: aguardiente(the local nasty grain alcohol type thing), grenadine, and some whipped cream that floated in the now-red drink in a sort of congealed mass. Not bad. The deal at this bar was, $1 for your first uterus shot and then it was all the shots you could drink. But we had to catch the van back to San Pedro Sula, so the nice gringo expat bartender offered me one to go. In a plastic bag. Which, I might add, contained far more than a shot worth, but hey, it was free. And it's the Honduran way. I threw mine out before drinking even half of it. You really need a shot glass for that kind of thing.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Where do I begin?

I have so much to say about Honduras! First of all, I should say that I am back, for those of you who were worried. I thought maybe I should give day-by-day highlights to recap the trip. But then I thought, when we have a story to tell don't we always say, "Where do I begin?" So I will give place-by-place highlights instead.

Estancia Dona Maria
This was our B&B and in fact was chronologically my first post-airport San Pedro Sula sight, besides the many Pizza Huts along the way. (No red roofs, though, just regular buildings and the modern logo.) Our lodgings were nice, with two to four team members to a room; I shared with the two twenty-something girls. The main thing that made it stand out from the surrounding neighborhood were the brightly painted colors and well-cared-for plants that gave it a quite tropical look. Like everything else in the surrounding 'hood, it had a locked gate, which they opened for us when we came and went. San Pedro Sula is not what anyone would call a safe city. (More on that later.) But I swear slapping a fresh coat of paint on the place would give visitors a whole other impression. Anyway, if you ever visit San Pedro Sula (which, somehow, I doubt) then definitely stay at this place! We gathered on the front porch each morning and evening before meals and it was quite lovely to lounge around there. Bonus: the occasional lizard scampering about the wall. Yay for lizards! (They eat bugs.)

The Work Site
We were there to build a house, and build we did. Now of course a Global Village team is rarely if ever going to be able to see an entire house go from start to finish in their limited time there; rather, the job is to significantly advance the work for the mason and laborers (and family members who will live there, who are required by Habitat for Humanity to put in a certain amount of "sweat equity") with our volunteer efforts. This house was more on the "start" side. The foundation was there and we started laying concrete block. I will never look at mortar the same way again, as one of the Canadian team members pointed out on the next-to-last day when we walked by a random wheelbarrow and trowel on the sidewalk near our hotel.

We built on a lot that probably once had some other house on it but was now vacant. I would definitely characterize it as a Poor Neighborhood. Then again, Honduras is so poverty stricken it was hard to find a Rich Neighborhood, although we did get to drive through one on our last night there. THAT was funny, because our van driver (hired by Habitat to take us around all week) basically told the security people at the gated neighborhood entry, "I want to show these Americans the houses" and they let us drive in to do so. (Sorry, Canadian team members - when it comes time to throw weight around it's all stars and bars, not maple leaves.) But back to the more common Honduran neighborhood where we spent the majority of our time: we also spent a lot of time in the yard of the house behind this new one, the neighbor, who graciously allowed us to squat for a week and a half in her yard, piling blocks, eating lunch, and so on. This neighboring household also included lots of chickens, a dog, a cat, and the cutest two-year-old girl ever who was delighted to have so much attention and won't know what to do with herself when we don't come back to her on Monday morning!

The Van
I love group bonding. Nothing like piling a dozen folks into a big white van every day to toddle around to the work site and back. And there's even less than nothing like piling those folks into the van on the "R&R" weekend to drive three hours from San Pedro Sula to Copan to see the Mayan ruins. Listening to the team leader's iPod the whole way. Which consisted largely of country music. Which delighted exactly three people: him, me, and our token southern girl. Of course, when Johnny Cash came on everyone was delighted; he has that effect on people. Him and "The Gambler" - who doesn't love "The Gambler"? I am not engaging in hyperbole when I say that might be the single greatest song ever written. Well, there were many, many stories told on that trip, but I rather think some of my team members might want to abide by the "what happens in The Van stays in The Van" policy.

Those Mayan Ruins
I liked them! It was so green there! Somehow I always pictured Mayan ruins as being in a vast brown expanse. Even though I was well aware that I was in a country of mountains, rainforest, jungle, and the like, I was still somehow surprised by the greenness of it all. The Copan Ruinas were beautifully situated and if I were a Mayan I would have lived there, too. Also, there were macaws, which are big and red and beautiful and flew really close to us and then just kind of hung out in branches over our heads squawking.

We saw statues of kings, the multi-step tiered type structures, very old Ceiba trees with giant roots, the ball court where you might be sacrificed at the end of the match (giving whole new meaning to "take one for the team"), and even Mayan plumbing: a toilet and kind of "drainpipe" carved into the stone. Actually, I shouldn't emphasize the human sacrifice, although I kept joking that the purpose of our trip was to sacrifice a Canadian. As our tour guide explained, they really did see it as an honor to die for their civilization, which is really just like our U.S. army soldiers do when they go fight a pointless war. Or like our politicians say our soldiers do, I should say. Plus the Mayans invented zero and did other smart things. Have you ever invented something as significant as zero? I sure haven't.

This was the other place we rested and recreated, on the north (Caribbean) coast. It was cloudy on Sunday so we basically had the beach to ourselves. Two of us swam (me and a Canadian), several of us lounged in hammocks, we stretched out on towels or lazed around under a little thatched roof thing, and they cooked us really freshly caught fish for lunch, serving up the whole thing on a plate from head to tail, which we then had to fillet ourselves. I should point out here that I was FAR from vegetarian this entire trip. Being volunteers, in a poor country, with a non-profit hosting us, being a diva is not allowed. That coupled with my complete avoidance of any raw fruit or vegetable (I didn't get the hepatitis vaccine) meant I ate anything and everything that was cooked and placed in front of me. Even a fish who stared up at me from the plate. I was most fascinated by the eyeball (which I prodded a bit, much to the dismay of my teammates) and the teeth. Have you ever had a fish served to you like that? It totally has teeth. Tons of tiny, sharp teeth. I touched them.

The other main thing that happened on the beach is that a Garifuna girl happened by and braided my hair for the price of fifty lempiras (around three dollars - though I gave her twice that). I like my braids, which basically lasted the week but are on their last strands now. Then we drove through the Garifuna village, even poorer than the Poor Neighborhood in which we build, and kind of thought our van driver was going to drive us into a lagoon at one point, and then returned to San Pedro Sula where our B&B owner made us lobster for dinner. Yes -I even ate fresh lobster. I ate every kind of meat on the planet, I think, down there. I was so not in charge of my food choices. (When I was talking about that with Brian today he said, "Even veal?" and I laughed. Thankfully, no. They're way too poor down there to have veal.)

Stadio Olimpico
I'm not really sure why it's called Olympic Stadium, but we had the immense privilege one evening of seeing the Honduran national soccer (futbol!) team play against Puerto Rico in a World Cup qualifying game ("Adelante seleccion!") which was terribly exciting. We all even got jerseys to wear, so we were like the most spirited gringos ever. I really dug the whole experience, from the riot gear police who kept their backs to the crowd the whole time as they watched the game to the nine-year-old kids hustling you to buy beer, snacks, and gum (for which they took your order and which they then fetched and brought back -- I could really get used to not having to get up to buy beer at the game! ever!) The bad thing was the rain; the field was so wet the start was delayed thirty-five minutes while officials fretted, but even though it kept raining they played anyway. It was such an important game. So the players sloshed around the field and within minutes they were all muddy and soaked, and the ball, like, never rolled out of bounds because it just stopped half the time after someone kicked it. We had to slosh through puddles of water on the way in from the parking lot, too, and by the way my Skechers are awesome because that stuff was ankle-deep and my socks didn't get wet. GO, Skechers! And go Honduras, who won 4-0.

Hogar de Amor y Vida
Towards the end of our trip we left the work site early one day to go donate school supplies and toys we had brought to a home/orphanage for children with HIV and/or AIDS. That place is awesome. The land, labor to construct it, and so on have been donated and it relies on donations still, but I have rarely been so impressed by anything I have seen, ever. There are almost forty children living there, and their ages range from 2-19. They live in immaculate shared rooms with bunkbeds, divided by gender and age group, where weekly chore lists are posted. There are displays in the hallways featuring the rights of each child, duties, and values to live by such as integrity, respect, honesty. These kids really are one another's family, most of their parents being either dead or in some cases having given them up, unable to deal with the problem of raising an HIV-positive child (whether emotionally or for lack of health care or both).

But the thing about it is that after our tour we busted out the toys we'd brought and played some baseball, jacks, jump rope, water books and pencils and things. These kids shared and took turns like no kids I have ever seen. Ever. I gravitated toward the baseball crew, so our team leader, Michael, and I were pitching to a couple boys who took turns batting. Then the adolescent deaf girl was standing around watching and Michael and I motioned for her to come over, and the boys included her in their "line-up" so seamlessly my jaw dropped. I saw it time and again with each toy and each group of children I observed. This place is really teaching them to be respectful of one another and raising them well, and we were all very moved. It was sad when the kids asked us not to leave; they were so happy to have people at their beck and call to play with them. The woman who started this place is amazing. They even have a building where you can stay if you want to go volunteer there if you're ever in San Pedro Sula (have I mentioned I doubt this?) and if you are interested in donating monetarily let me know and I will hook you up. I can't think of a better place I have ever seen ever. "Be the change you wish to see in the world," indeed.

El Salvador
I had a seven-hour layover on the way there and I became REALLY familiar with the international connections part of the San Salvador airport. I think I witnessed the sunglasses stand woman's entire shift. (And I did buy a much-needed cheap pair of sunglasses.) I ate two meals, discovered a favorite bathroom, and memorized some of the ads that were on a continuous loop on the televisions. On the way home, yesterday, I had only a forty-minute layover and I was almost disappointed. It felt SO familiar when I got there, that I felt like I was already home. I was also all kinds of glad to get out of the San Pedro Sula airport - yuck. Hard chairs, hard tile floor, nary a restaurant past security, tiny, yuck. If you ever go to San Pedro Sula (ahem) I pity you if you are taken to the airport three hours before your flight, as I was.

OK, so that's setting. I'll post again later about some of the characters of my trip. There were plenty of characters all right. We'll save theme for last.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The rains came down and the flood came up...

So I have not been nearly as wired here in Honduras as I originally thought I would be. Why? Well, on Tuesday afternoon the regular afternoon rainstorm blew in, just as we were closing up shop at our work site, as usual. Then it came down hard and fast. And harder. And faster. And more and more and more and by the end of our 15- or 20-minute ride home the rivers washing through the streets were up over the curb and taking out trees, and our friendly driver person was letting us know there hadn´t been an afternoon storm like this in years. Then he asked us if we remembered Hurricane Mitch. Not comforting words from ol´driver Hector, there! (That really is his name, Hector, by the way.)

Anyway, among other things the storm knocked out the power twice that evening and at the end of it all our little B&B´s computer was out for the count. Rumor has it there was no surge protector but all I know is that now we have to take a few minutes to dash into an internet cafe if we want to connect and while they are cheap and not far away, spare time is not really the m.o. of this trip. Nor is walking around this dangerous city alone.

So, I just didn´t want my adoring fans to think I had forgotten you. I have many stories to tell, including my sickness and convalescence, the Honduran national team´s important victory in a soccer game against Puerto Rico that has them headed in the World Cup direction, and the very inspiring school and home for children (mostly orphans) with HIV that we visited and to which we donated many things.

But those stories will wait. Or rather, you will wait for them.

By the way, yes I am getting all the Hillary news here, and it´s annyoing me, and I´m glad I´ll be on my way to the airport Saturday instead of listening to the capitulation. When I return to the U.S. I will tell you all about my trip and then get my write-in campaign started. Ha!

It has been tiring but wonderful here. I love the family for whom we built the house and very much enjoyed our lunch and closing ceremony with them today. I am exhausted and excited to return home and full of thoughts and all that other good stuff. Yay Honduras!

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Of course as is bound to be the case upon the flurry of activity that is the first 72 hours in any country, I find myself with much to say and no coherent manner in which to say it. Maybe I should just have you vote what you want to hear ... I am into voting and a group consensus. I am totally known on this trip as Hillary girl. Unlike some of my law school (read: jackass) peoples, the Habitatters on this trip aren´t jerky about B.O. allegedly having the nomination locked up, they just hadn´t really considered the fact that he doesn´t. But they have now.

So let´s see, there´s:
  • Mayan ruins
  • poverty ephiphanies
  • random beach fish bones and hair braids
  • San Pedro Sula´s swankiest of the swank night club
  • machete man
  • van bonding
  • Spanish speaking (yes, I´m doing it! without shyness! even translating for any given gringo on my team in need)(I´m one of three or four Spanish speakers among the volunteers)
  • food
  • random midwestern tattoed metal-listening men who become inspired (by God) to live in Honduras building houses
  • sacrificing a Canadian
  • The War on Malaria
  • anything else?

When I have more time I´ll probably end up rambling about all of the above, but seriously, this blog takes requests.