I’ve just returned from nearly a week at Disney World. Four generations of our family converged in central Florida from Louisiana, Texas and Georgia. Our gang ranged in age from 86 to 5 years old.
From the moment I landed at the Orlando Airport, I was greeted by smiling, cheerful people eager to make my stay memorable. We were whisked off to our lodgings in buses with cheerful Christmas tunes over the loudspeakers driven by an incredibly effervescent driver. The place we stayed in was supposed to resemble Key West. I’ve never been to Key West, Florida, but the plantation style shutters on faux clapboard units were in place to evoke the southernmost Floridian vibe.
I have visited the Magic Kingdom before, once as a child, and twice as a young adult. The constellation of different resorts entertains on all levels. There are shows, rides, parades, concerts, gondola rides, boat rides, a monorail and a plethora of eating establishments.
I tried to participate as much as possible in the vast array of attractions and distractions. I rode rides. I watched street exhibits of acrobats, dancers and Disney characters. I ate and drank too well and too often.
I enjoyed the Magic Kingdom for sentimental reasons, seeing quintessential sights I remembered from my childhood visit in the early 70s. I recalled with fondness the Hall of Presidents and the Haunted Mansion. The youngest in our group enjoyed the princess and fairy tale venues.
Epcot was more enjoyable for the older members in our group. During our stay, the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival was underway. Country upon country were represented by cultural exhibits, as well as food and beverages from each nation. I enjoyed the French architecture and food. Mexico had a good gig, too, even if the Mayan ruins were a bit too fake and shiny.
The essence of Disney seems to be to make one excitably happy. For me, Disney was an exercise in flights of fantasy, surreal and strange scenes, bemusing and bewildering at times. There was almost a manic pace to the crowds searching for the next exciting moment.
Disney is an American spectacle to be sure. Thomas Jefferson famously write about the American right to the pursuit happiness, but happiness is an elusive goal. For me, all that work to be happy was a tad exhausting.
I live in America. I always have. I was born in North America. I lived here most of my life. For a very short period, almost a year, I lived in Mexico. I was in my late 20s at the time. I worked with a family of missionaries in Guadalajara. For nearly a decade, I lived in Central America, where once again, I did missionary work.
When I say America, though, I speak of the United States. We take ownership of the word, America, as our own. We’re a narcissistic bunch. Just look at our history. We believed in the Pilgrim’s dream of the ideal Godly Nation. We believed in Manifest Destiny, that somehow the United States should stretch coast to coast. We had no problem whatsoever in pushing out Native Americans from the land, resettling the remnants of great nations into reservations.
Back to my title. I love America, most specifically the United States of America. Having lived abroad, there are things that I truly appreciate. Here’s a partial list.
Ice Cream. In Honduras, I had a hard time finding decent ice cream. The stuff manufactured in Honduras was a gelatinous, gooey gob of sugary nastiness. I finally lost faith in finding anything decent in the frozen dairy aisle there aside from Dos Pinos, manufactured in Costa Rica. However, due to the vagaries of shipping and electrical outages in Honduras, Dos Pinos often suffered from poor texture. Now, I can eat Ben and Jerry’s delicious pints, or when feeling the need to pinch pennies, I buy Blue Bell, which is a perfectly serviceable ice cream from neighboring Texas.
Walmart Pick-up Service. I love using the Walmart phone app to select groceries, place an order, and voila, pick up all my weekly provisions in the parking lot. I don’t have to leave my car, as the Walmart worker does it all from selecting my edibles to putting them neatly in the back of my SUV, then presenting my electronic receipt to my car door. I believe only Americans could think up such an indolent way to get groceries.
Streaming TV service. I used to have Netflix in Honduras, but what about Roku, Hulu, Amazon, and Apple TV? Let’s not forget the the services that stream live TV. I use YouTube TV. I love it. I never need to leave my La-Z-Boy recliner to access thousands of TV shows, movies, and TV channels. Yes, I actually have 2 La-Z-Boy recliners.
Mega-Everything. Costco, Sam’s, Lowe’s, Home Depot, SuperWalmart are all examples of the American need for all-things-large. I now attend a megachurch complete with Jumbotron screens and stadium seating. Thousands attend every weekend, and thousands more watch the service at satellite churches across the region. Sometimes, when I leave, I can’t find my car in the massive parking lot.
Libraries. I live less than 1/2 a mile from a public library, which I use regularly. There’s so much there: books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs, computers. I can download books to my e-reader from the library, too. Fantastic! There are meeting rooms for classes, conferences, and club meetings. How can a country not have libraries? Some don’t. Honduras didn’t have a government that supported public, lending libraries.
I love America. I don’t love everything about America, but, I do love a lot about this land of excess, indolence, consumerism and of course, libraries. We can’t forget libraries.
It’s a beautiful, crisp fall morning in south Louisiana. Eggs are on the stove, simmering to a hard boil. I will be on my way to church soon. Passing the time before service, I am looking at social media, reading a few blogs, and sipping Community coffee.
Somehow, I chanced upon some rather old photographs that I uploaded to Google photos a few years ago. I remember when I found these pictures. I was poking around a box of old mementos at my mom’s house while sorting out items in a cupboard. When I opened the brown and pink shoebox, the musty smell was almost overpowering. My mama thought the whole box should be ditched.
I’m glad I didn’t do that. In the cardboard box were forgotten treasures from my grandmother’s past. I found a medal from World War 2, probably from one of my uncles all of whom are dead now. I uncovered my mother’s ration cards from World War 2. There was an old journal from my grandmother, where she marked important dates with small notes. (More on that in another post.) In the jumbled pile of things, I saw some postcard pictures of young men and women in period clothes of the early 20th century.
A cursory search of the internet revealed these postcards were calling cards in the early days of the 20th century. Collecting postcards was a popular hobby it seems from this period. Fortunately, the cards were in good shape. One side had directions for mailing and space for messages, and the other, beautiful, staged young people from a century ago.
The first picture had a name on the back. The signature read Augustina Dufrene. My mama didn’t recall a relative or neighbor by that name. I looked for her name online but no local name matched to someone her age, which I assume was a young adult around 1910-1920.
It’s possible her name at birth was Augustine Dufrene from Lockport, Louisiana. I found that match. However no information beside a birthdate in the late 1890s was found. No wedding date. No death notice. Perhaps, Augustina moved away from south Louisiana, or maybe she died in the influenza epidemic that swept the nation and the world in 1918.
Another card featuring a female had a message on the back professing love and friendship but no name. I suppose she assumed a name wasn’t necessary since the bearer was more than likely a beloved friend.
My grandparents was married in 1917, so I think these were friends in the days before or during World War 1. After the war, my grandparents had little time for collecting postcards. They were busy working a farm and having babies.
The names and stories of these cards are lost to time, but the beautiful images still remain as a marvelous mystery. I hope you enjoy viewing these century-old selfies of people in their Sunday best as much as I have.
My blog life has been hanging on life support. In the past, I wrote regularly as Madame Gumbeaux or simply, Laurie, at Honduras Gumbo, which is now offline. I quit paying the yearly fee to keep the Honduras Gumbo alive. Most of my inspiration came from living in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. When I moved stateside five years ago, I assumed I wouldn’t want to write posts regularly anymore.
Now, I am living in the North Country. North fits my viewpoint. I live about 30 miles north of New Orleans, Louisiana, my former home before Honduras. Today, it feels like North Country to be sure. The city of New Orleans started cool in the mid 40s this morning. Here? It was just a tad above freezing. It was cold in my house, even with central heat. I had to wear slippers to walk on my wooden floors this morning. Outrageously cold. No frost or ice, but still too cold.
Aside from fretting about the cold, I am keeping busy in Louisiana. I tutor most afternoons with Sylvan Learning Center. I teach English as a Second Language for adults, too. In my English class, I have students from Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea. Also, I volunteer once a week at a local food bank.
Occasionally, I take trips to Honduras or other countries. Since I don’t have a husband or children, my time is my own. I can come and go as I please, which I do.
My last trip to Honduras was in August of this year. I went for a very short stay, just a few days in order to close bank accounts. For years I kept my accounts open with Ficohsa, a Honduran bank, because it was cheaper to keep offerings available to folks by using my account to send money for people there. Ficohsa Bank has two branches in the New Orleans area, so I could easily make transfers there or even online with minimal fees.
However as time passed, I saw little need to keep it open. In fact, every year, the IRS wanted information about those pesky little accounts. So I went southward to close them. The bank would not let me close them in the US. Two saving accounts were closed readily. However, the third account, a certificate of deposit account, is still in limbo. A lawyer in Tegucigalpa is working on it. Hopefully, that last account will be closed before the year 2020.
In contrast to the frustrating banking business, I was very pleased with the state of my former ministry in Honduras. My former assistant, Maria, manages the children’s project under the supervision of another ministry, His Eyes. They built a two story building for the children. There, the children are fed five days a week, with lessons and recreational activities, too.
In addition, the new overseers have adopted a holistic approach, helping the poorer families with improving their housing and daily living. All children receive shoes and school supplies. His Eyes expanded the children’s ministry to another town, too. I am happy with the progress. Thanks to all who encouraged me or even sent donations while I was working there. It’s good to see things moving along five years later.
I hope to write weekly blog posts. I enjoy writing, even if I am not in Honduras anymore. In the past, I had readers who regularly stopped by for a serving of the Gumbo. As far as readership goes now, a few stalwart readers are dropping by the blog when I post. Aside from a few family and friends who see my links on Facebook, the majority of my small readership comes by way of Steve Cotton’s blog from Mexico. He lists my blog on this blog roll at Mexpatriate in the Key of Steve. Thanks, Steve!
I lived for several years in Tegucigalpa, Honduras operating a small non-profit for children. A friend, Kathy, and I often met for a cafecito* at one of the coffee shops in the capitol. We were two Americans who happily shared conversations about our lives in Honduras.
One aspect of our coffee klatches was speculating on the occasional sighting of white people. The presence of white people in the sea of brown faces that passed in front of us was not an everyday occurrence. We would speculate if the rare pale-faced newcomers were missionaries, embassy workers, or even rarer, hapless tourists. After all, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, was more known for murders and violence than photo-ops and cultural landmarks. It was not, and is not today, a tourist town.
In order to not embarrass ourselves or startle the unfortunate white souls we spotted, we had a code.
“Do you see those RWPs ordering coffee?” I would say to Kathy.
Or, she would say to me, “Do you see that RWP trying to hail a taxi?”
It just seemed nicer to be overheard saying “RWP” rather than the non-political correct moniker, “white people” or “white person.” Also, it was entirely possible we would see the RWP again, and perhaps, be introduced formally at a church gathering, missionary meeting, or at an embassy social event for other Americans in the capital. I didn’t want to be remembered as the idle coffee shop wag who singled out unsuspecting white people as objects of speculation.
Now, I live near New Orleans, Louisiana. I still see RWPs. But this time, the tag doesn’t stand for Random White People. No, I live among Rich White People. My home is in an affluent pocket of citizenry near Lake Pontchartrain which sits on the opposite side of the lake from New Orleans.
There is a veritable sea of white people in this community. The population here is overwhelmingly white, wealthy, and have a taste for luxury brand of automobiles. When I am out and about town, I speculate on the person or persons who steps of the Lexus SUV or Cadillac Escalade. Are they stepping out to attend hot yoga sessions or pick up sushi for dinner? Remarkably, even their luxury vehicles are usually white.
No matter where I live, I am bound to see RWPs.
*Cafe = Coffee. Central Americans have a tendency to add -cito or -ito to the end of nouns, signifying small.
We live in different cities. We have different allegiances. In New Orleans we live and breathe the Saints during football season. We bleed black and gold. We like our chant, Who Dat? when cheering for the team.
In Baton Rouge, my sister revels in Louisiana State University football. In Baton Rouge, the locals wear purple and gold on Saturday afternoons during pilgrimages to Death Valley, the locals’ name for the stadium. My sister has elaborate tail-gate parties featuring all manner of Southern food in the parking lot before the game.
I usually watch the New Orleans Saints on television on Sunday afternoon. My pre-game ritual is a Popeyes combo meal of fried chicken, fries and a biscuit. I wear my blackshirt with a gold fleur-de-lis. The fleur-de-lis is the symbol of New Orleans.
The two cities, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, are only about an hour apart. Our games are only a day apart. But the cultural difference is huge. We speak differently.
In New Orleans, I chant, “Who dat say they gonna beat ‘dem Saints!
In Baton Rouge, my sister just says, “Go Tigers!”
This year, both teams are winning. The Saints are 6-1. The Tigers are 7-0.
Long live the Who Dat Nation and the purple and gold Tigers. This is the South, and we sisters love our football.
So what, you might say. Grandmas talk every night, all over the world.
My ninety-three year old grandma, Adele, hadn’t spoken in over five years. She had never been a big talker, and as the years wore on, she spoke less and less. One day, she quit speaking completely. There wasn’t an obvious reason, like a stroke, to explain her silence. I think she just ran out of things to say as she got older.
Then, one night, living quietly in a nursing home, she spoke about an angel. As nurses and aides entered and left her room to attend to her very ill roommate, she spoke.
“Do you see the angel? He’s here to take that lady home,” she said over and over.
Before the night ended and morning came, my grandma’s roommate died.
Word spread through the nursing home of the mute woman who had spoken of an angel waiting to take a soul. When the morning shift arrived, the nursing assistants refused to enter my grandma’s room.
When my mother had arrived that morning to visit, my grandma was still in bed, in her nightgown with long braids laying across her shoulders. No one wanted to assist my grandmother. They were spooked by angel talk.
Days later, the daughter of the deceased contacted my mother. She was confident that my grandma’s words were her answer to prayer. She had been praying fervently for a sign that her mama would go to heaven when she died.
Grandma’s words were her sign, she said.
Grandma never spoke again. She died quietly at the age of 98.
I haven’t written anything in over a month. Dear readers, what must you think of me? Or wonder where I am? I am home once again, in Louisiana.
I don’t have plans to return to Honduras. Spanish lessons in Honduras gave me a boost in language acquisition. Language skills could help if I eventually decide to move again to a Spanish-speaking country.
One thing I neglected to write about was that I arrived a day after a festival in Siguatepeque, Honduras. Obviously, the citizenry had called a city-wide party in which everyone spent the day with the express purpose of spreading litter. Soda bottles, plastic bags, and all manner of paper were spread across the town. One could scarcely walk the streets without said rubbish sticking to the soles of one’s shoes.
In addition, all dogs, owned or stray, had been invited to make their mark on the streets as well. It must have been a great turn-out, one of historic proportions. I was amazed at the output of the varied canine population. My shoes bear the marks, too, of the dog-in-street celebration.
Seriously, Siguatepeque has a litter problem. And a dog control problem. In stark contrast, the neighboring city of Comayagua was nearly spotless. The historic center of Comayagua had actual garbage bins strategically placed. I didn’t see any food wrappers in the streets although the city was full of poor farmers from the surrounding villages there to sell their wares as well as buy goods in town on the Saturday that I spent in Comayagua. There was not one stray dog to be seen the entire day I spent in Comayagua.
Moral of this story: Visit Comayagua and enjoy a provincial city with colonial buildings. If you should visit Siguatepeque, don’t wear sandals. Wear old shoes to trample the trash underfoot that’s everywhere in the city.
That’s all folks. I will try to write a bit more frequently.
I am in Siguatepeque, Honduras for a Spanish language intensive. I am at the midpoint of my 3 week stay. Classes are going well.
I walk to and from the school each weekday. I share a home with a widow and another student. Her house is an easy walk to the school, taking about 15-20 minutes to walk to and from the school.
Everyday I pass about 1/2 dozen small stores. They sell the kind of things one finds in convenience stores in the States: soft drinks, chips, over the counter medicines, toilet paper and other such stuff. In Central America, these small mom and pop stores are called pulperias.
Pulperia, by definition, means a place to buy octopus. No, you won’t find any octopus in these stores. How did that name become the de facto name for tiny one-room stores all over the region?
Some people say it’s because the owner needs to have eight arms working in all directions to find items in the tight spaces of these small stores. I don’t think that’s where the name comes from.
In the nineteenth and twentieth century, the banana companies had a virtual monopoly as far as employment in these small countries. There were very little other work available to those seeking wages. If one didn’t work on a coffee plantation, the only other alternative was the fruit companies.
The reach of the United and Dole fruit companies cannot be underestimated. They controlled the economies of the small countries of Central America. The locals referred to their employer as The Octopus (El Pulpo in Spanish). The word octopus was used because the company had tentacles everywhere, much like an octopus. When workers received their wages, it was in company script which could only be used in the company store.
So, the name Pulperia emerged. It was the store owned by El Pulpo, or the Octopus. Today, one can stop at any pulperia for everyday items.
Want a cold Coca-Cola? The pulperia always has them stocked.
Need a tablet or two of Alka Seltzer? They are on hand. And because this is Central America, a cold drink and a dose of Alka Seltzer are often just the thing one needs.
I am in Siguatepeque, Honduras, to improve my Spanish language skills. I am studying at the Spanish Institute of Honduras for three weeks. On Wednesday, I flew from New Orleans to Houston, and then on to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The school sent a driver to pick me up for the 90 minute drive to Siguatepeque.
Siguatepeque, or Sigua as the locals say, is a city of about 80,000 people. It’s nestled in the heartland of Honduras, right in the middle, nestled high in the mountains. Elevation is about .7 miles, or 1,100 meters.
Siguatepeque seems to be growing. It’s equidistant between San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, the two largest cities of Honduras. There’s a superior highway running between these two cities, just as good as any in the US. Good roads, an excellent location and a highland climate make the town attractive to newcomers.
Wednesday was my first day in Honduras, or 1/2 day. I arrived at the airport around 12:30 in the afternoon. My driver and I traveled another hour and a half to get to the city of Siguatepeque. I dropped off my luggage at my home that I share while I am here, then spent a few hours taking care of banking, shopping and other details that I needed to settle for a three week stay. On Thursday I unpacked my things in to the house I am sharing with my hostess, her niece, and another student. My hostess is a widow of nearly 70 years old. She is providing both room and board, but I purchased a few snacks and beverages for my own use, too.
Purchasing things in Honduras can sometimes be hard work. For instance, personal care products are in locked glass boxes in some stores. When one needs deodorant, one must find an attendant to unlock the box. Then the product is hand-delivered by the attendant to the cashier. I didn’t bring a large tube of toothpaste. All I head was a travel-sized tube with me.
To buy toothpaste I had to visit a special section of the store that was guarded by an attendant. I gave her the toothpaste, and she put it in a locked, plastic box to take to the cashier to be unlocked and purchased. Is it expensive? I bought a medium size tube of Colgate for 23 lempiras (one dollar). If the store managers were hoping to catch me stealing the dollar bargain toothpaste, they were disappointed. I dutifully carried my toothpaste in the large plastic box to the front of the store.
Friday was my first day of lessons. As I suspected, I need to work on verbs. My Spanish skills have gotten rusty, and I misuse verb tenses more than I previously thought. I returned to the school on Saturday morning for my second four hours of instruction and practice. I am not wasting my time here.
Saturday afternoon, I spent looking around the downtown area as well as getting a hair cut. I wanted to do that before I left, but due to a miscommunication with my regular stylist I missed getting my hair fixed before traveling. That was regrettable. My hair had gotten past the point of looking like anything this side of decent.
I arrived in Honduras looking like a drowned cat with cow licks all over. I got a great cut and style for ten bucks in downtown Siguatepeque. I thought about buying a blow dryer, since I neglected to pack one. However, I think I may just go the salon for a wash and style once or twice a week. That would probably cost five bucks each time. Why buy a new dryer when I can get an excellent style job for Now 5 dollars?
The one negative thing about getting my hair styled for $5 once a week is that the hair salon had no ventilation. Nothing. No open windows, no open door, and of course, no forced air through an air-conditioning system. By the time the stylist was finished with the blow dyer and flat iron, I felt like a glowing ember of charcoal. I must say though the finished product looked very good, indeed.
This morning, I visited a local church. The service was al fresco, as I think the floors are being renovated in the main building. Under a large tent, revival-style, we enjoyed an excellent service. It was just the right temperature for an outdoor service, probably near 70 with sunshine and a steady cool breeze.
It’s hard to tell just how good the sermon was, as a few other Americans came in late, took the chairs behind me, and talked nonstop. I think the three young people are teaching in a bilingual school in town. They were blatantly rude and bored. However instead of leaving or walking away from the tent, they stayed in their seats and talked loudly to each other throughout the service. The image of the Ugly American came to my mind. They were far too superior to care about those seated around them. It was just horrible to hear them carry on and on, laughing and talking through the service. Besides, they weren’t even saying anything particularly interesting, If one feels compelled to talk in church, at least make the chatter interesting to those of us who have to listen to it.
After church, I ate at Pizza Hut with a classmate. If anyone has read my posts when I lived in Honduras a few years ago, one might recall what I said about Pizza Hut of Honduras. It’s rather classy. It’s a nice restaurant with a hostess that seats you and a full menu that has items beyond pizza. I settled on the chicken lasagna and a side salad.
I enjoyed being seated in a place that knew that air-conditioning, if you have it, should be kept on enough time to cool the room, as well as leaving it on sufficiently to keep it cool. Most places in Honduras, if an air-conditioner is on the premises, put it on just long enough to make the room a few degrees below 85 or so. When it hits 80, the manager or owner snaps it off with a remote. Not Pizza Hut. The air stayed for my entire meal. Remarkable, really.
My friend and I enjoyed our meal, paid, and left. We visited a grocery store before returning home for a few odds and ends, such as snacks and soap. Then we took a taxi home for 25 lempiras each. That translates to $1.06 per passenger. I’ve already used the taxi service 3 times, and every time, the rate is the same. I think $1.06 per person is a good deal, don’t you?
Tomorrow I hit the books again, as I continue my ongoing struggle to master the Spanish language. Until next time, hasta la vista.