Connecting to Source

Returning to America for a few months between country assignments abroad, we don’t take its conveniences for granted. Taxpayer money is working here, I note after returning a library book, driving by safe, clean playgrounds, delighted by the lack of trash in the streets and how well-paved the roads are, like smooth jazz, I think to myself after years of potholes.

After parking mere feet from the entrance of the grocery store (in a well-marked parking space), I enter to find it sparkly clean with well-stocked shelves. And, at self-check-out, there’s no need to convert currencies-I’m in and out in a flash. Before it’s even 9:30 in the morning, I’ve got all of my ingredients for dinner and have wrapped up errands without stress; not a feat easily achieved in developing countries.

On the other hand, because it’s so easy to pop into Target, Old Navy, Trader Joe’s, and stores with everything we need (and so much more that we don’t, but I”m a victim of marketing), I find myself in commercial spaces more frequently here. I realize, too, how much I miss having personal connections with local merchants like we do overseas.

In Cairo, I enjoyed asking Haani, the man with kind eyes who ran the street corner market if anything new had arrived. “Yes,” he would say, proudly pointing out a glass jar of rock salt collected from the flats in the Siwa valley. “There is a video about this salt- you would like to see?” He once asked, opening his phone before I could reply.

I watched his mobile screen with wonderment as it displayed a desert landscape with salt pools resembling the surface of the moon. When I handed him Egyptian pounds to buy the spice, he said, “Shoukran” (thank you.) “I don’t have change…but next time, ok?” I smiled and nodded as he handed me a tiny pack of gum as a show of faith.

Near our house in Honduras, Ramsay practiced Spanish at roadside stands as we bought produce directly from the families who grew it. And in Swaziland, with a mix of Siswati, broken English, and grins, I got updates about the infrequent (coveted) arrival of black beans and goat cheese. Those exchanges took a bit more effort but ultimately felt deeply rewarding.

Perhaps because in the states, we rarely know the story and person behind the sale, I’ve attempted to be more consciously aware of what we are buying. I admit that I still swipe my credit card at times without considering what it took for that product to end up in my hands, but I try to remember the ripple effect our purchases have; the impact it makes to support small businesses and farmers directly when we can.

“Do you know what that’s made of?” I ask our son Ramsay when he points to a Minecraft T-shirt with an expression of please, mom?

He stares at me blankly and takes a guess. “Cotton?”

We look at the tag and see it does have some cotton, (blended with synthetics I can’t pronounce) next to “Made in Vietnam.” We talk about the people and businesses involved in its manufacturing, and how much travel that T-shirt endured-perhaps in trucks, cargo ships, and planes in order to now hang where we are standing.

As a woman who grew up in Columbus, Georgia, a town known for its textile mills, I ask Ramsay to think about the T-shirt’s journey, how it may have been part of a supply chain beginning with cotton growing in a field that had to be combed, cleaned, and bleached then sent to a factory with large looms to weave it into fabric, involving many hands, countries and multiple machines. His eyes get big.

“Pretty amazing all of that work and travel went into this one T-shirt, right?” He nods, brow furrowed in thought.

On our next road trip, I make a point to stop by a cotton field to show Ramsay where the T-shirt began, to connect to its source, My lips form a smile as I see Ramsay’s mind turning, hopefully with a deeper appreciation as a future consumer who will be interacting with the wide world around him.

Creativity & Culture- Off the Beaten Path

In a discussion with chef Luis Valesquez, a local Honduran friend, about the artisan crafts he displays in his Gastro Gallery, he mentioned a town an hour north of Tegucigalpa that had larger-than-life street art covering its walls. I was intrigued. How could this be? I’d been here three years and never heard of this nearby museum outdoors.

Research revealed that this inspirational project in the historical town of Catarranas, founded in 1667 by Spanish rulers, stemmed from artist Javier Espinal. In 2011, he proposed to transform the city’s walls with art. With government investment from the San Juan de Flores municipality, and In collaboration with artists from Honduras, Mexico, Columbia, and Argentina, more than fifty vibrant murals depicting themes of light, peace, and the roots of Honduras were created. (Artists’ signatures are painted on their talented works).

Wanderlust propelled me to take my son out of school and go exploring. I live with perpetual fernweh: a German word meaning “a longing for unseen places.” Like a racehorse stuck at the gate, every so often, I have the desire to break away from daily life and reconnect with something bigger. A friend who home-schools her son agreed, and off we went on our field trip.

We drove the tree-lined, winding RN-25 route north of Valle de Angeles until we entered the tropical cloud forest in the mountains. Thick mist blurred the the two-lane highway until twenty minutes beyond, when the sun returned, this hidden gem called Catarranas, meaning “singing frogs,” appeared.

Walking to the main square to get our bearings, we paused to admire a few sculptures near the pretty iglesia. We were awe-struck by the innovation before us as we ambled through cobblestone streets to find a stunning trompe l’oeil painting “spilling” down the stairs. Another artist used a home’s door as a book shelf, and a narrow alley was shaded by a canopy of crayon-colored umbrellas. This town was wonderfully alive with magical details, surrealism, and movement in those brush strokes.

On the way home, we made a brief detour where my friend had taken a pottery class in San Juancito, which for a tiny village, was teeming with history. It was the site of the original American Embassy in Honduras, housed the first electrical plant in all of Central America, and was one of the country’s first gold and silver mining towns.

Adjacent to an unassuming cafe was a factory, once a soda bottling plant, that now makes pottery, handmade paper, blown glass, and woven baskets.

At the end of the day, I was buzzing from the immersion of creativity and culture. Coupled with the freedom of walking outdoors, feeling safe with our cameras, and soaking up the friendly smiles of locals, it was one of my favorite days in Honduras.

Le Vaya Bien. Go Well.

Tracy

Notable Honduran Sights and Sounds

As we near the end of our three years in Honduras, the ticking clock is a reminder to enjoy the time we have left. The following are a few thoughts and images of notable moments.

Tegucigalpa   IMG_8051

While drinking coffee in our garden, an almost imperceptible coughing sound came from the bushes. My eyes spied shadowy movement in the Hibiscus, where a magnificent, deep green and shimmering humming bird drew nectar from a salmon blossom tinged with yellow, levitating like a magical fairy.

A cacophony of sound surrounds the patio this morning: honking cars and revving engines, struggling against the ascent of steep hills, nearly drowning out the whistling of a pedestrian. Wind chimes bump in the light breeze, sending out bright notes like clinking crystal glasses while a squawking parrot interrupts the purr of the a/c unit next door.

Papery palm leaves scratch against the stucco wall. Men pushing a cart through the streets call out for broken items, ringing a bell reminiscent of childhood ice cream trucks.

Honduyate, Lago De Yajoa, and Pulhapanzak Falls

A day that includes boats and calls for binoculars and a good camera lens is a good day. Careful steps on the rickety bridge led us through yellow and lime-colored grasses that hid condors and cranes.

The metal cable emitted a high pitched whir as we zip-lined over a 43-meter, thunderous waterfall with birds dipping and diving in the spray beneath us. We fell asleep to the sounds of crickets and cicadas.

How fortunate to drink coffee in a hammock under a tree with purple flowers, next to a babbling brook.

Pico Bonito and Garifuna Island

Beans, bananas, and goaty white cheese for breakfast and fish with teeth for lunch. Unbridled dancing in the sand with locals and a group hug with a sloth. Laughter and toucans, turquoise water, and crayon-colored boats.

West Bay and Ibagari Boutique Hotel, Roatan

When the twin- prop plane broke through cumulus clouds, a glowing rainbow was revealed.

A park ranger gave Ramsay fish food and explained few shells make it to the beach in Roatan because of the “iron shore” ring of coral reefs.

Right after a shower and dressing for dinner, Ramsay unbuttoned his pressed shirt and trousers, turned on the tap and climbed quickly into the deep porcelain tub at the Ibagari  “because I just have to. Look at that tub.” Wrapped in a thick terrycloth robe afterward, he suggested, “It’s so cozy, let’s just order room service instead.”

Snorkeling before breakfast might be our favorite new beach tradition.

“Can I buy some?” Ramsay asked, referring to the well-dressed man selling banana bread out of a purple plastic cooler on the beach. We then ate the warm slices on a table with Bird of Paradise flowers, watermelon “sandia” and tamarind juices.

Visiting La Patrona, a woman-owned coffee company that is 39 years old, we learned the perfect shade of red for picking shade-grown coffee beans is called sangre de toro, and the grading process for a coffee tasting is strict.

Among many memorable things about this country, we will miss our friends here, the art, tacos and futbol, roadside vendors, picking sun-kissed blackberries at Finca La Contadora, and drinking chamomile tea made from fresh flowers.

And last, but certainly not least, Honduras brought us our beloved family dog, Biscuit, and the best companion a boy could ask for.

Gracias for these gifts, Honduras.

Nos Vemos,

Tracy