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.

 

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Siguatepeque, Honduras

The Spanish Institute of Honduras

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.

 

 

 

 

Livin’ la vida loca

la vida locaI landed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras yesterday afternoon. After a two hour drive, I arrived at my destination, Siguatepeque. I’m going to be here three weeks for an intensive course in Spanish.

I’ll write more later about Siguatepeque and language school. For now, I am just happy to be here. Odds were not in favor to get here.

Yesterday morning, my friend Marsha picked me up at five in the morning to get to the airport. I live on the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, a lake which separates my community from the city of New Orleans. I needed to cross the Causeway bridge, a 23 miler, to get to the airport.

In the dark, we pulled up to the toll  booth. Everywhere the darkness was pierced with flashing blue and red lights. The bridge was closed, and police were directing traffic to turn around.

Of course, no one actually told us the bridge was closed. I had to look it up online as the police stood around talking to each other. How long would it take to reopen? The police, again, in their way, decided it was not worth the time to let us know any details. Their job was to park their cruisers across the highway and light up the predawn darkness with flashing lights. That’s all they did, too.

Obviously I was going to miss my flight. I had no faith, not a speck, that I could make the flight. My friend was undeterred. She suggested we take the highway that goes around the large lake.

If you are not from Louisiana, then you don’t know how big Lake Pontchartrain really is. It’s the eye in the boot of Louisiana  that is on grade school maps of the United States. It’s big.

She drove calmly and resolutely all around the lake, a distance of over 40 miles.

“We need speed, girlfriend, ” I said to myself over and over. “We need to move like we are living la vida loca.” 

She didn’t pick up on my frenzied thoughts of living la vida loca on the highway. She drove sanely and moderately.

And we made it. I told the group of porters at the entrance that I needed to catch a flight to Houston that was leaving soon. A young, skinny, gangly youth jumped up, took my passport, ran to the ticket counter and checked me into my flight. I completed the relay with papers in hand at security and then to the terminal with about five minutes to spare.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. I am here in Siguatepeque* writing this post as I wait for breakfast in the home of my host for the next weeks. A rooster or two or three are crowing nearby.

*To pronounce Siguatepeque, follow my handy phonetic aid: SI gwa tay PEK kay.

 

 

Fodor’s No List 2018

While skimming headlines this morning,  I saw that Fodor, the travel guide, has a top 10  list of places to avoid in 2018. Honduras made the list. Since I lived in Honduras for a number of years, and I plan on returning  later this month, I thought it was worth my time to read the article.

Honduras has experienced widespread protests and instability over a recent presidential election, but Fodor doesn’t mention those issues. Fodor cites the high murder rate, especially within the homosexual community. If one were to go to Honduras, I assume that looking for dates among the LGBTQ community would be ill advised. Got it. Of course, traveling anywhere for the express purpose of dating/intimacy seems dangerous, or is it just me that feels that way?

Back to Fodor’s list.

It seems reasonable to advise people to stay away from places like Myanmar, where there are incredible amounts of people fleeing the country due to ethnic cleansing. It just makes sense to avoid GOING to a country when 600,000 plus are LEAVING for neighboring Bangladesh. It sounds unstable, right? The travel guide writers didn’t have to overthink that one, I would guess.

Did you know that Missouri is dangerous, too? In the country’s midsection, this state is supposedly a hotbed of civil rights violations gone amuck. They cite an example of two men who were hunted down and shot by Missouri citizens who suspected that the men were Muslim.  Then there was a debate in the Missouri  legislature concerning rights of the LGBTQ community wherein one legislator argued that homosexuals may or may not be human.

You can find the complete NO LIST for 2018 here. I am still planning on going to Honduras at the end of January. If something would deter my trip, I’ll let you know.

The White Flower

MargueriteToday’s post is a repeat of a post I wrote in 2012 when I lived in Honduras. 

Yesterday, a little girl named Marta handed a flower to me. At first, I demurred. My hands were full, literally, as I served plates of beans, eggs, and other goodies.

I passed her by a few minutes later to distribute fruit to children as they exited the building. Her hopeful face scanned mine, and then her eyes fell. I hadn’t taken the flower she had in her hand.

Then I stopped. I took her flower, tucked it into the side of my headband, and hugged and kissed her. Marta is like a daughter to me. I love her dearly. I am the closest thing she has to a mom, as her mom is occupied with working constantly to support their large family.

Without our help, Marta and her siblings would be far hungrier than they are now. Marta has received clothes, shoes, a school bag and other school supplies. Most days I don’t have time to read the Bible to her. And really, I don’t need to use words. She knows the love of God and of our team through our actions.

Yesterday afternoon, I was bombarded with other concerns after I tucked the flower behind my ear. Someone has stolen the water meter and connection to my house. Therefore, I had no water. With our level of bureaucratic nonsense, I can’t say for sure when it will be replaced. In addition, I had multiple demands on my time: a sick child in the hospital, a patient at our nearby clinic needing transportation, a woman needing comfort over a husband who was shot at work. (He is home, thank God, having suffered mainly superficial wounds.)

On the way home, I stopped to buy five gallon containers of water. As I lifted the bottles of water, I touched the flower. Yes, my life is sometimes one big headache. Honduras is a violent, crime-ridden place. Hunger, robbery, shootings, even murders are a daily backdrop of my life here.

My little flower is battered and just about done for. But the hope it represents! That’s the reason I am where I am, doing what I do, loving whom I love.

So we are not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfailing grace. . . there’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see will last forever.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18, The Message Bible. 

This post was from 2012. My little friend eventually left our ministry, mainly because I encouraged her to receive the meals, education, uniforms, etc., that she was receiving through the work of a local Catholic charity. Her family was indeed one of the poorest in our neighborhood, and the Catholic charity there was doing an excellent work meeting the needs of her large family. 

Caution: Be Alert, Shelter in Place

word cloudI confess. Somewhat shamefacedly, I confess to clicking on Facebook quizzes. However, I don’t publish the results. I have my standards. Just look, don’t publish.  This quiz, the word cloud, supposedly captures my most used words on Facebook.

As anyone can see, Honduras is smack dab in the middle. It’s definitely in the middle of my thoughts the past few days. I bought my airline ticket last week for a trip to Honduras to begin in the middle of January and end on Fat Tuesday.

It’s almost certain there will be civil disturbances in Honduras when I travel there. The presidential election results are being disputed by the opposition party. There have been massive protests. The OAS (Organization of American States) has called for a new election due to obvious voting and ballot counting irregularities resulting in the incumbent declaring himself a dubious winner of the vote.

This is the warning from the US State Department affecting the city where I will fly to, although it’s not where I plan on staying. It urges citizens to postpone or cancel unnecessary travel to mainland Honduras. I am going to give this serious thought today.

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Cortes Department: Shelter in Place

As result of escalating protests and violence relating to an election dispute, the U.S. Embassy has ordered its personnel in the Honduran Department of Cortes (including the city of San Pedro Sula) to shelter in place until further notice. U.S. citizen visitors and residents are encouraged to take similar precautions.

U.S. Citizens who plan to travel to Honduras or are currently in Honduras should review the Honduras Travel Alert, issued on December 6th which urges U.S. Citizens to postpone or cancel unnecessary travel to mainland Honduras.

Free, Free At Last

eye drops glaucoma
Free, Free At Last, Thank God Almighty

Yesterday, I saw my eye doctor. He told me I can stop using eye drops for glaucoma. The pressure in both eyes are normal  I had two surgeries in the fall to relieve the eye pressure as well as correct a blockage in the right eye.

Surgery is such a loaded word. Laser surgery on the eyes is quick and almost pain-free. The entire process takes less than thirty minutes. I had two procedures, one on each eye in separate visits.

This fall, I felt trapped as I needed to schedule surgeries. My eye pressure was sky-high, I had a blockage in one eye, and the beginning of damage to eyesight in the right eye. It wasn’t a good time to stray far from a good eye doctor.

Now I am free to move about the country or even beyond my country. Currently I have no set job. I am  tutoring students privately. Mostly foreigners seeking to improve their English, or conversely, English speakers seeking to improve their Spanish.

In  January 2018 I will be in one of two places. Will I go to Siguatepeque, Honduras? Or San Jose, Costa Rica? Both offer schools to improve my rudimentary Spanish skills.

Siguatepeque is a charming village in the heart of Honduras, at a comfortable altitude and a comfortable distance from the violence and political unrest of the major cities. The school is not as good as most but I know the people to be good and honest.

The school in San Jose has an old and solid reputation for helping gringos (and gringas) speak the language. The school in Costa Rica needs an answer this week.. They have schedules and rules. And, they want more money than the school in Honduras.

Why do I want to learn more Spanish?  I want to start a new mission somewhere. Probably, it will be in Siguatepeque, Honduras, or Managua, Nicaragua. Wherever I go next, I need to be in a place where I have a sense of community. In a word, friends.

Okay. It’s your turn, you dozen or so readers out there. Comments appreciated on where I should go. After all, I am free, free at last. Thank God Almighty.