30 April 2010

the weather in spring

"What is the weather like?" someone asked me, after I came in the building.

"It's pouring," I said. "Also, it's sunny."

Life has been like that lately.

I sat in the Ethiopian restaurant, scooping up misser wat in torn pieces of injera, listening to friends tell stories about life, savoring the words and the spices and the company. I didn't even think to wonder if I was happy until much later. How could I not be?

I planned to ride my bike to meet a friend, but the tires were flat after the winter and the bike pump turns out to be broken. I didn't have time to walk, and I didn't have cash for the bus, so my only solution was to frantically run over to the train stop to get a new packet of tickets, and run over a block to the bus stop, and then the light on the corner just would not, for anything, change, even though I could see the bus coming closer and closer, so I finally raced across a gap in traffic, against the light, just in time to catch the bus. I was still late, though.

There was a band on the stage playing songs from the 50s, and a couple of my friends got up to dance to the music, badly, and a few older people who knew the right motions got up and joined them down in the front, and little kids ran up to dance, too, and H. and I sat back in our seats and laughed at all of them, laughter that means bliss. An Elvis impersonator began to serenade us all, and his wig started to fall apart, so long strands of synthetic hair fell in his eyes. Then we all got up and did the Hokey Pokey.

I talked to J. about what I miss about Rwanda, Liberia, Tanzania. I miss the way people greet each other, I told her, and all the different words and handshakes, and I miss the way a little kid will sometimes just take your hand and walk a mile or two with you before turning back to run home alone. I miss sitting outside at night surrounded by friends speaking three or four languages, none of which I understand, and I miss the ability to pick up a random lost tourist at the bus station and let her live in my house for six weeks.

A missionary couple showed pictures and film of their new station in Sierra Leone, and when I looked at the faces that look so familiar-almost-Liberian, when I saw the hills and the flowers, I thought, "I made the wrong decision." I wanted to go back. I wanted to go back even to Southern Sudan.

I wanted to go out tonight and do something, but not with the crowds on offer. I went with one of them, though, and sat miserable at the table, ordering only water. I was too hungry to pick out food, and I didn't feel like spending money, and after half an hour, I went home alone. I didn't want to go home, not so early, but when I got home, I was so relieved. It's one thing to sit home alone when no one asked me to do something else, but when I sit home by choice, it's lovely.

I walked along the water, home from work, talking to my mom about Oma. "You have to go home and sleep," I told her. "You can't function without sleep." None of us can. I'm far away here in Gone West, and there is nothing I can do but talk to my mom about her mom, and worry, every time I look at my phone, that I missed a call and that call was the one telling me to come back to Michigan.

There was a literal rainbow outside as I talked about what I want here in Gone West, and what I wanted there in the rest of the world, and how I reconcile the two. Or, more accurately, how I try to reconcile the two.

It's like that lately. The sunshine warms my face while the raindrops fall on it.

24 April 2010

i turn argumentative

I almost got into a fight with the security person who was checking us into the bus from La Ceiba to San Pedro Sula. (Arguments with security people = theme of my trip to Honduras. Why? I have never been prone to arguing with security people ever in my life before.) The bus company security person was taking a picture of each person who got on the bus, and I did not want my picture taken. I refused, and he told me that I could not get on the bus without it. "Why?" I asked, and I didn't catch all of it, but his first explanation seemed like it involved publicity.

I am a lawyer, y'all, and I've lived in too many places where your words or presence can be taken the wrong way. I do not do publicity, not for anyone. I walk around the block, here in the US, to avoid being caught on camera walking down a public sidewalk behind a newscaster who is filming a report. I was not about to allow myself to be photographed to advertise a bus company, particularly one that I read on the internet has political connections. I do not know enough about politics in Honduras to risk this.

"No," I said, holding up the line. "I do not want to be a part of any advertisement." (This may have come out in French, now that I think about it. Do I even know how to talk about advertisements in Spanish? I know that I do in French.)

"You have to be photographed," the security man said. "You cannot get on the bus without a photograph."

"No photograph," I said. "I do not want to be in an advertisement."

"It is for security. You cannot get on the bus without a photograph."

"It is true," the woman behind me said, leaning around me. "They take everyone's photograph, in case there are problems."

Apparently a digital Kod@k is the remote bus station's security camera. At the main station in San Pedro, they take your ticket and say, "Look up at the camera," pointing to a little eye on the wall. It's harder to get on a luxury bus in Honduras than a plane in the US, these days.

22 April 2010


We arrived in La Ceiba just in time to rush to the bus station and throw A. and B. on a bus back to Tegucigalpa. They had term papers to write, and Semana Santa was beginning, which meant that if they did not hasten back home they might get stuck wherever they were. (Where they were was La Ceiba, at that point, but it would have applied regardless.)

I hugged A. a bunch of times and slipped some lempiras to B. to give to her after they were gone because she would not take them from me and waved and waved as the bus disappeared down the street. Then I looked around. Hm. It was 9 am, and my bus for San Pedro didn't leave until 2:30 pm. I was alone in La Ceiba.

La Ceiba is a beach town, so I paid a taxi to take me to a restaurant by the beach. Except, as it turns out, all of the restaurants by the beach that my taxi driver knew of were 1. closed that early in the morning, and 2. served only seafood. I know, I know. Logic. We finally found one that would let me sit there and drink a Pepsi until the kitchen opened, only by the time the kitchen opened I had drunk 1/2 a large Pepsi, realized how sick it was making me after 4 hours of sleep, breakfast of little processed cakes called Bimbolettas, and a nauseating ferry ride, and abandoned the half-empty bottle. I just could not handle seafood at 10 am.

I went on an internet and baleada quest. After asking a couple of people, I found a place that looked technology-filled, and opened the door. A young teen-aged boy came rushing in horror to the door. "Do you have internet?" I asked.

"No, no! No internet!" he said, pushing me back out and closing the door in my face. I caught a glimpse of serious gaming equipment - big screens and teenagers gathered around computers. I guarantee that there was internet in that place, but clearly the teenagers did not want adults anywhere around.

I retreated to the tiny restaurant next door and ordered myself some baleadas and coffee. The tiny restaurant doubled as a stationery store, and people came in periodically to fax and photocopy things. There were a few notebooks, pens, etc. on the shelves, along with one box of milk, several juice boxes, and quite a few cans of Vienna sausages. Every person who came in did a double take upon seeing me, and then politely said hello and went about their business. There was a park across the street, with a little tram waiting next to it.

After breakfast, I finally found some internet. When I was done, the 18-or-so year old guy who was running the cafe said something to me that made no sense whatsoever. It didn't even sound familiar. "Was that Spanish?" I wondered. I asked him to repeat it, and he did, and it made no more sense than before. He said it a third time, and still nothing. His friend said, in Spanish, "I can't think of any other way to say it," and called to the single other customer, "How can I say 'eighteen'?"

"Eighteen?" I asked, also in Spanish. "You said eighteen?"

"Yes," said the first guy, repeating the still indecipherable word.

At that point, I realized that the problem was not me, it was him. He was a mumbler. Obviously I know the Spanish word for eighteen. I gave him eighteen lempiras and left, muttering to myself about how kids these days don't enunciate, do they?

I am so incredibly old.

14 April 2010


After some fantastically relaxing days of lying on the beach and eating a lot of coconut ice cream every day (what? it was amazing), we reluctantly began our journey back to Real Life. Like most journeys while traveling in developing countries, it began with waking up at the unseemly hour of 5 am. (Why, why, oh why can buses and ferries and trains not leave at some time that begins, at the very least, with an 8? It's so exhausting to be dragging oneself out of bed at times that begin with 6s, over and over, for one's entire vacation. Times that begin with a 6 ARE NOT REAL.)

So, fine, we miserably dragged ourselves out of bed at 5 am and made our way down to the ferry. It had rained all night - it was raining when I got up and looked out the balcony over the water - but it stopped just as we walked out of our hotel and down the single little street. That meant that all of our wet clothes from the beach the day before were not dry, were, in fact, damp when we put them into our backpacks, but at least we were not ourselves soaked through for a day or two of traveling.

We were virtually the first ones on the dock, although there was a group of people just arriving by boat that might have been two families plus a random extra adult. We spent some quality (bored) time trying to decipher where they were from, until finally we spotted an address that ended in Austria on one of their bags. We wanted to sit down, they wanted to sit down, everyone who was arriving to wait for the ferry wanted to sit down, but everything was wet from the rain, so we just stood about until it became clear that the ferry was not leaving any time soon, whereupon we dismantled a portion of a huge stack of cement blocks, and we sat on those.

The ferry was late arriving from its docking point in the middle of the bay. It spluttered its way over to the dock and promptly died, right there in front of us. A. and B. were trying to make a 9:30 bus to Tegucigalpa, so a broken ferry on an island in the Caribbean Sea was not exactly the excitement they were seeking, but there was nothing they could do. We sat on our cement blocks. Men descended into the bowels of the ferry and came back up, shaking their heads at the crowd.


Still nothing.

The ferry made a half-hearted engine starting noise and then went back to nothing.


A. took some photos of the area, and some awful photos of an I-woke-up-at-5-am me.


More nothing.

Finally, an hour after the 6-something alleged departure time, the ferry's engine roared to life and we were all allowed to get on. As one of the Austrian guys was getting on the ferry, he slammed his head on the top of the deck and cracked it wide open. We set off with him bleeding extensively over everything.

12 April 2010


And then I spent pretty much the rest of my Honduras vacation on the beach. Between beaches, I ate a lot of baleadas* and drank a lot of rum and coke by the $1.50 tumbler.

The End.

* Baleadas are tortillas filled with beans, cheese, and mantequilla, a horrible white sauce that most people like because they, unlike me, do not despise all sour cream/yogurt/cream cheese variations. I got the baleadas with just beans, because I adore beans and I do not adore the salty cheese in Honduras.

Oh, who am I kidding? That's not the end.

We spent a day dodging a big primary-colored bird, who came waddling over every time we opened anything plastic resembling, in his birdie little mind, a bag of chips. He was accompanied, kind of, by a postmodern pirate, who sat in a beach chair with his bushy beard and occasionally called out, "Chico!" to which the bird unfailingly failed to respond. Eventually I tried to pet said bird, and he bit me with his big yellow beak, and it hurt, a lot, and the postmodern pirate came and retrieved the bird and walked off with him.

When A. and I first got to that beach, there was a camera crew meandering about, and eventually it began to appear that they were filming, well, us. Gorgeous we may be, but the idea of being filmed by random guys on a beach in Honduras did not please us. I finally threw on A.'s long once-white skirt and marched over there. "Why are you filming us?" I asked.

"It is for tourism," the guy said, a little scared of me, "pero si no quiere..."

"No queremos," I said, and walked off again. He disappeared quite rapidly after that.

We snorkeled along the edge of a deep drop-off. It scares me a little, always, and yet it is so eerily beautiful down there in the blue. The predominant fish excitement that day was huge schools of round purple fish, bigger than my hand, with an occasional parrot fish thrown in. Whenever I scared myself looking into the deep, I popped my head back out of the water to see the other two bobbing snorkels across the top of the water, and the shore beyond them.

From the top, the sea looks so calm and innocuous. It's hard to reconcile that with the moving, changing, mysterious world underneath, and yet, it's so beautiful down there that I always want to ignore the sunburn on the backs of my legs and keep flippering about, forever.

10 April 2010


I was back at the San Pedro Sula airport at 6 am on Wednesday, and in Tegucigalpa by 8. The man next to me was Dutch and tried to strike up a conversation about the twenty years he has spent working in Central America, but I could barely keep my eyes from closing in the middle of sentences. Honduras rushed past beneath the wings of the plane, and we landed in that familiar swoop down onto the runway at Toncontin. The final turn used to swing out over nearly empty hillside. This time, ten years later, I looked down at rows and rows of new houses.

Once again, I had no luggage, and I walked straight on through Domestic Arrivals. My sister was waiting on the other side, all sun-bleached hair and yellow t-shirt. She looked like the sun rising in the morning, and we hugged and laughed as people stared at the two gringas so delighted to see each other.

It was strange, very strange, to watch my baby sister maneuver the first country that I ever maneuvered on my own. Shouldn't I be the one trying to talk the taxi driver down from 100 lempiras?

After stumbling through some Spanish (it was kicking in, sort of) with A.'s family, we spent the afternoon and evening with K. and J., the professors of the program that brought both A. and I down there. It was unfathomably good to see them. I always wanted to be them when I grew up, but I feel farther from it now than ever before.

We ate at a Cuban restaurant, sitting in the open air of the courtyard, breathing the evening air of a place with no winter. Driving home, through the curving streets of Tegucigalpa, lights flashing on walls on either side of the road, I felt the ache of having given this up. My life should be more like this, I thought. This is the life I wanted. What am I doing in Gone West?

08 April 2010

arriving alone

I was supposed to land in San Pedro Sula at 11:58 pm on Tuesday night, but the plane was delayed in Fort Lauderdale, and by the time we landed, the pilot announced that it was 2:11 am. What the...? I don't wear a watch anymore (the face of mine shattered when I slammed it against a doorknob - oops - and I haven't bothered to get another), and my cell phone did not get a signal in Honduras (unlike Vietnam), but seriously, that delay + flight did not feel that long. Spirit Airlines, I concluded, must have screwed up the Daylight Savings Time change when they calculated that flight.

I immediately began to worry, because I had booked a hotel for the seven hours that I was scheduled to be in San Pedro, and I was desperate for some sleep, and I worried that the hotel owner/driver would have given up on me and left.

I sailed though immigration and walked directly out through customs. I was the first person out, because I hadn't checked any baggage, and everyone stared at me as I walked out of International Arrivals, but no one had a sign with my name. No one leapt to greet me.

It's always good to pretend that you know what you are doing when you arrive in a new city, even if you don't, and even if you suddenly realized right before you left on your trip that you have never actually been, say, alone in a city in Latin America. I marched over to a security guard and opened my mouth to ask him about my hotel. Nothing came out. My brain was like a broken computer, flashing English-French-Spanish-English-French-Spanish. We stumbled though, but didn't really understand each other. Clearly, Spanish was going to take a day or two to kick in.

Finally, I retreated off to the side, where two backpackers were sleeping up against a wall. If they can do it, I thought, I guess I can, too. I tried to get comfortable. I laid my head down on my backpack. Then I popped back up again, unable to rest in the noise and light. Two guys from my plane came over and sat near me, also intending to spend the night in the airport.

The security guy who had not understood me sent someone else from our plane over to talk to me. "It's almost three am," that man said, tapping his watch. "If you have a flight to Tegucigalpa at 7, you might as well stay here."

I sighed, and chatted with the guys from the plane, until suddenly a man came over, holding a piece of lined paper with some words on it in hard-to-read pen. "Is this you?" he asked, and I squinted.

"Oh! It is me!" I said. "Are you A.?"

"Yes, I am. Your plane was late," he said, "so I went outside. When I came back, they said only a few people had come out, so I thought it was okay."

"I was the first one to come out," I said. "But... it's so late now. It's almost 3 am. I don't even know if it's worth trying to sleep."

"It's not even 1 am," A. said.

Apparently Spirit Airlines can't tell time. At all. We landed at 12:11 am Honduras time. It was 2:11 am in Florida which, guess what? Is a place where we were not.

It's amazing how wonderful four hours of sleep in a real bed seems, not to mention a sink and toilet, when you thought you were going to be spending three hours trying to sleep on the tile floor of an airport. The guys from my plane gave up their airport floor space and came along, and cut my transportation fee into thirds. Victory, I thought. My first night alone in a city in Latin America: success.

03 April 2010


As I was boarding my flight in San Pedro Sula, heading back to the US, there was one final security check at the gate. It consisted of two women and a man at a folding table, looking through everyone's bags by hand. I got the guy. He opened my backpack, pulled out the ziploc bags I had at the top, set them on the table, and said, in Spanish, "You have three bolsas. You are only allowed one bolsa."

There were indeed three ziploc bags. One was gallon-sized and contained my toothbrush, a scrubby thing, my comb, and soap. The other two were quart-sized. One contained all of my liquids, per TSA regulations, and the other one contained things like hair ties, face powder, and eye shadow.

"Only one bag has liquids," I told him, also in Spanish. "The other bags are only to organize things."

"You are allowed one bolsa," he insisted.

"I am allowed one bolsa with liquids," I said.

"You have too many bolsas," he repeated, and called over someone who spoke English.

"He says you have too many bags," the new guy said.

"Yes," I said, "but the rule is that I can have one bag with liquids. Only one bag has liquids. The other bags are only to organize other things."

"He says you can only have one bag," the new guy said again, shrugging. "I don't understand why. He says he will have to take two of them."

"Fine," I said, up-ending the gallon-sized bag into my backpack, dumping out the contents and pulling out the empty bag, to the horror of the inspector. "I will get rid of all the bags except the one with the liquids."

The inspector grabbed at the stuff. "You aren't allowed to have this!" he said, reaching for a container of baby powder that I use as dry shampoo.

"It's not a liquid," I pointed out.

Frustrated, he put it back and opened the little bag of liquids. He triumphantly pulled out my four ounce bottle of lotion. "This is too many mL!" he said. "It is too big!"

"He says it is too big," the interpreter said.

"Yes," I said, picking up the other quart-sized bag and getting ready to dump it in the backpack. "That's fine. He can have that one. He can have the bags, too. I will just put everything in the backpack without the bags."

The interpreter took both of the small bags and put them into the gallon-sized bag. "Now you have one bag," he said. "He says you can only have one bag. You can go."

I didn't even bother protesting at the insanity of the fact that I now had one gallon-sized bag with the two small bags inside it (note: still three bolsas) and the rest of my stuff scattered wildly through my backpack, when the actual rule is intended only to limit the quantity of liquids. I took off down the jetway, shaking my head at the result when the bureaucracy tells the people enforcing the rules what to do but not why they are doing it.

"You made it!" one of the pilots said as I got on the plane, having passed me as I was fighting with the inspector.

"Barely," I said, stomping down the aisle for effect, but more amused than annoyed.