The Beautiful Broken

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I am a silver-lining seeker. I embrace the positives and look for enchantment, of which Honduras has plenty. The first few months in a new country are like dating, figuring out the cultural nuances, the moods, likes and dislikes. Overall, we enjoy it here. The people are kind. You can’t beat this consistently pleasant climate. Villages  are charming and the coastal regions are stunningly beautiful.

This morning is gorgeous. A cool breeze flows in through the open windows. Our garden is a little sanctuary of birds and flowers. An unexpected sunflower has grown from scattered birdseed and the cactus is blooming.

Yet, I feel a little panic rising. Although there is no imminent threat, there have been bouts of political upheaval these last couple of months, stemming from the controversial Presidential election in December of 2017. Recently, teachers and doctors have had their tenures revoked and were fired. This comes on the heels of the President’s brother being indicted for drug and fraud charges, spurring objection to the current administration. Although most incidents are peaceful here, I think about Easter week, where the mayor’s residence was burned down, looting shattered store fronts, and a vigilante-style shooting occurred. It was an anomaly. But it happened. (BBC Article).

Although our residence is like a fortress, I admit to being a little anxiety-riddled after the bombings during our time in Egypt. Rarely is any of the violence against Westerners. It’s just the potential that we could be caught up in the collateral damage that scares me. It’s the not-knowing and apprehension of what could happen if protests turn into no-kidding uprising. My heart beats faster, my breathing feels more shallow in response to hearing sirens, persistent honking, and the thud of tear gas being deployed in the distance. Helicopters are circling, perhaps the news or the police. Citizens passionately chant “Fuera JOH! (President Juan Orlando Hernandez).

Emails and texts are pinging my phone: “Planned manifestations could shut the city down and cause road closures and blockades. Try not to use your vehicle. Businesses may close.” A little fearmongering starts to spread on social media within the well-intentioned local community, spinning me up even more. Photos are shared of buses blocking highways, smoke rising from burning tires, hordes of people marching in the streets, held at bay by police in raid gear. I concentrate with laser-focus on the echoes of loud pops and cracking sounds outside. Logically, I know its just fireworks used by protesters to annoy police, but my body reacts as if they are gun shots and goes into fight or flight syndrome.

My mind starts emergency planning. Should I rush to fill my car with petrol so we can evacuate if necessary? Can I get to my child at school through the protests? (My thoughts recall my husband’s gentle voice during the incidents in Cairo- “I know this goes against your instincts, but please don’t try to be a hero and try to get to him. He’s safer at school.”) But I want to go get him. Right now! And cuddle him in and protect him.

Do I have enough water and food in our safe haven? Should I run to the store to load up on groceries in case it’s impossible to get there tomorrow? Most of this is unlikely, but after 3 posts in developing countries, we’ve experienced situations that arise and escalate quickly. Living overseas has its ups and downs.

April was hard with Brad out of town for work. Protests started along with the rainy season, which brought water leaks. School was cancelled and Ramsay and I had cabin fever. During Easter, I was homesick, not sleeping well, and missing family and close friends. I went into my shell, miserable and scared and wanting not this. And to be not here. There were moments of wanting to cut bait and choose safety. Brad, always supportive, kindly said, “Go. Take Ramsay and go to the States for a while.” I was tempted, but I felt like leaving would be giving up on our family somehow, and not giving our new country a chance. Maybe I was just over-reacting, I told myself. We’re still adjusting to living here, I deliberated. But in the end, I couldn’t justify taking Rams out of school long-term.

A peaceful week passed, and life was back to normal. A friend and I ventured out to view museums and churches. I love the historic center downtown, especially the old post office. On the day we visited, there was a strong police presence, and a lot of political graffiti, but it was quiet and I felt safe. The pretty architecture and care put into these exhibits gave me hope for Honduras.

Last weekend, our family traveled to Lago de Yajoa, where it is tranquil. On a birding tour, I was elated to be immersed in nature and see its picturesque creatures, landscapes, and fields of lilies.  I remind myself to keep looking for the magical moments like these that wait around the next corner.

This is life in a beautiful, but broken country.  Honduras and I will continue this journey together, one day at a time, alternating from heads to tails on this two-sided coin of yin and yang.

Peace and Light, 

Tracy

Returning Home

Returning home pulls strongly on my heart strings. Hugging Mama, breathing in her perfume and the familiar powdery scent of her makeup. Her lilting voice, bright blue eyes, and favorite pink lipstick. I love being in her house, which stirs up nostalgia; the feathery-soft, weathered jade green sofa, the French twin beds from my childhood room, family portraits proudly keeping watch on the walls. How the sunlight falls into the dining room, highlighting the grain patterns on the wooden table, gleaming brightly as it reflects off of the silver bowl filled with red apples.

Portrait of MaryDana Knight (Mama)

There is comfort in knowing these spaces intimately, remembering the nooks where the dust hides, dents my toes recognize on the hardwood floors and which photos are attached to the fridge with yellowing tape because their magnets fell off long ago. I swelled with happiness, watching Mama read, bake, and play hide-and-seek with my little boy Ramsay, who tells me that he loves how Gran “always looks a little fancy!”

I happily embrace in bear hugs with childhood friends, family, and treasured college roommates. Sharing meals in the south are a feast, an elevated experience. My belly stays so full, I feel like I’ve been dining for days on a cruise ship. During communal lunches at our cousins’ house, we take leftovers out of the refrigerator and make sandwiches, share watermelon and pull up more chairs around the the kitchen island as neighbors and friends drop by. Dinner tables are elegantly set with candelabras, crystal, fine china and linens. There are prayers and toasts and clinking of glasses. Candles burn lower with flickering light as stories unfold and laughter tumbles out with ease.     

Having coffee with Mama one morning, she brought out a cardboard box of memories. We perused family photographs from her childhood in the 1930’s: weddings, parties, prom photos. I take in the era’s details: big bows in girls’ hair, strands of pearls, lace collars, tweed coats, gloves, and fur stoles. Mama’s high school photo. Her as a little girl in Cuba at the Morro Castle.  She opens a 1944 newspaper to the front page. Fine print in the corner reads “Price-Four Cents.” The bold headline: “Allies Repel Savage Germany Attacks near Rome.” What Mama remembers most, with the innocence of a child at the onset of the war, is that her favorite radio program did not come on. 

Grandmother Mary VanBuren

In a black and white image, my grandmother looks festive on the SS Constitution ocean liner in the 1950’s. Next, we find a May 1965 Italian poster advertising “La Boheme, Citta di Marsala” with Mama’s name listed next to “Mimi” the lead soprano. At the bottom of  the box is a faded,curling photo on which”1913″ is handwritten on the back. My great-grandfather waves to us from the back seat of a Cadillac with a running board. Such rich history, so many stories. I even discovered that Mama played tennis with John Wayne’s wife and Daddy had drinks with him during their stay in Columbus, Georgia for the filming of The Green Berets in 1968. Who knew?!

There were so many moments and scenes where I reminded myself to really be present, especially while cherishing the souls, sights, and freedoms we miss so dearly in Cairo.   

  • American flags flying proudly under clear blue skies.
  • Beautiful green fields, manicured farm land and dense pine tree forests.
  • The slowness of summer, long shadows and a sun that doesn’t set until long after cocktail hour.
  • Close to midnight while quiet in bed, hearing the soulful sounds of distant freight trains.
  • The unmistakable sweet southern scent of gardenias and magnolias.
  • Squawking mocking birds, striking blue jays and popping red cardinals.
  • Plump squirrels landing heavily on branches that bow below their weight.
  • Statuesque antebellum houses, brick roads, and historic cottages.
  • Inviting porches and beautiful gardens with topiaries and statues.
  • Catching rain drops, the joy of puddles and calm of watching water trickle down windows.
  • Children blowing bubbles, spinning and falling onto the soft grass with squeals of delight.
  • The wonder and enthusiasm of sparklers and fireworks.
  • Building Legos, sidewalk chalk art, finger painting and rinsing off with the garden hose.
  • A joyful cycle of walking in bare feet, swimming pool play with friends, holding baby kittens, petting dogs, Slip n’ slide fun and soccer with cousins.
  • Real belly laughs and shouts of fun discovery as the boys run with nets to catch glowing fireflies.
  • Ice cream cones, playgrounds, music-making and make-believe.
  • Evening walks around the neighborhood, sitting on benches and having heart-to-hearts.
  • “Why do we go around the outside of the restaurant and not go in?” asks our 5 year old, who has never before experienced a drive-through, and refers to Wendy’s as “Lucy’s” for the rest of the trip.
  • BBQ, BLT’s and pimento cheese sandwiches.
  • While devouring the delicious buttery, sharp cheddar taste of Mama’s cheese straws, I savor the little sesame seeds sticking to my lips.
  • Enjoying delicious, grilled steaks for lunch at the Big Eddy Club, an experience translated by Ramsay in his imagination as “eating camel at the Spaghetti Club.”
  • Lingering by the Chattahoochee River, watching the sun set over the water and wishing I could stop time for just a little while.

I’m always delightfully surprised to make discoveries in a city I know so well: markets with live music and art, coffee shops, ambient restaurants and bakeries that have popped up while I’ve been gone. Modern playgrounds featuring water fountains, bongo drums and enormous chimes. Making new friends with a kindred spirit in yoga.

Getting ready to leave town, the hardship of goodbyes stirs up a mix of emotions; sadness and gladness. Many of Mama’s friends, whom I’ve known my whole life, are getting older. Will they be there the next time I come home?  I will miss family gatherings, holidays, birthdays, funerals, and celebrating those important life moments with people dear to me. Pushing these thoughts away, I breathe deeply and fight the tears. Putting on my sunglasses as armor, I say silent prayers at Publix grocery store while buying snacks for the trip back.  On the return flight to Cairo, I recall memories of a peaceful afternoon outdoors with friends. Although the heat was thick and muggy, the deck umbrella provided welcome shade as we sipped our wine. The cicadas’ loud, alternating crescendos echoed in the gorgeous quiet as small scurrying animals rustled through fallen leaves. I stared into the depths of the trees, mesmerized by the forest’s varied shades of green. Beautiful light streamed through the canopy.

Ramsay taps my arm on the plane to show me clouds and says “Mama, you seem hippo-tized.” I smile at him.  A surge of emotions pulls on my heart strings, missing home already, but grateful for such wonderful memories.

Peace and Light,

Tracy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crossing a Bridge

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Crossing a bridge, I decide to sit.

Breeze blowing, shadows dancing. Brittle leaves scratching the wood. A trickle of water tumbles down through rocks and into the creek. Sunlight filters through the leaves.  Locusts hum, unaware that summer is done. Bird songs welcome Fall. Reflections of branches quiver on the water’s surface. I am grateful for the stillness.