An Update from the Gumbo Writer

honduras gumboMy 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!

Random White People

I lived for several years in Tegucigalpa, Honduras operating a small non-profit for children. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA 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. 

There and Back Again

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.

 

 

 

The Octopus Seller

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.