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

 

 

 

The Echoes of Egypt

I’ve been away from blogging for far too long. I have felt distracted and fuzzy-minded. Yearning in a city of 20 million people and a great deal of concrete to be surrounded by beauty, quiet, and to feel a connection with nature. Envisioning myself walking through a forest and breathing fresh air is a favorite meditation these days. Sometimes people assume that in the Foreign Service you lead a glamorous life, that it must always feel like being on vacation. There are those moments when it feels too good to be true, but honestly, most days, we are living our daily lives as we would in our “home countries,” trying to create a home and life that feels stable, healthy, and joyful.

My blog is my space for musings, art, and writing that is an extension of me. But I have felt overly-extended these last few months, so I cocooned inside and wished for inspiration to show up. It took a while.

What have I been up to all of this time? With Ramsay (now age 5) not enrolled in school for the first few months upon arrival to Egypt, we stayed busy learning, exploring, unpacking, and searching for new friends and kid-friendly places. Our household shipments arrived just in time to put up a Christmas tree, and Santa arrived on a camel, which was exciting, but it simply didn’t feel like home here. So, we focused on nesting, getting to know our new city, and traveling the country. Days began to run together.

When Ramsay started school in January, the homesickness kicked in for me. Things I missed most: my mother. My really good friends. Living in a house. Having a garden. Sidewalks for Ramsay to safely walk and ride his bike. Trees and rainy days. Wearing spaghetti-strapped tops and shorts and skirts in the heat without glares, without feeling naked.

I spent a lot of time making our home a safe, cozy refuge from the world outside and tried to find a space in the house that felt like my own. I kept pushing furniture around from room to room and eventually brought a big desk downstairs and put it right in front of the living room window.

To Brad’s credit, he never once groused about this.  As I unpacked boxes from Swaziland that we hadn’t seen in over a year, I pored over favorite art books and reread underlined quotes of novels. I enjoyed rereading journals and letters, seeking inspiration. Missing human connection, I jumped into yoga and school activities, attended coffees and embassy functions, seeking my tribe. I met some great women and started a book club. I filled my days in lots of ways, and although creativity was slowly stirring, I did not write. I simply digested what I was experiencing.

When faced with “How do you like Egypt?” I automatically respond with positive (and true) remarks, such as how I love the vibrant markets, the Islamic Art, and that Egyptians are extremely kind. To illustrate my point, I tell the story about going by boat to the Nubian Village in Aswan for lunch with Ramsay, but all of the restaurants were closed. Before we knew it, we were invited to eat with a family on their houseboat, where they cooked us chicken on a hot plate and made a yogurt cucumber salad on the side. That really happened.

Egypt is full of wonders and delights: rich history, mythology, temples and pyramids, camel rides, shows with whirling dervishes and soul-stirring drums, Red Sea snorkeling, and cruising on the Nile, to name just a few. But, in reality, it has been a long adjustment period for me. I do like it here, but it hasn’t been without struggle.

Adjusting to life here has also included sandpaper scratchiness in my throat upon wakening, related to weather forecasts that just read: DUST. Heat that sits on you like a heavy blanket and creates a sort of stupor. Morning pollution that clouds the ground white and causes illnesses from poor air quality. Being gripped by fear, grief, and disturbing emotions surrounding tragic, senseless terrorist bombings. And learning what it means to live under a dictatorship and in a country that has declared a State of Emergency  (heightened security measures, martial law, internet restriction and censorship). Additionally, being American in a predominantly Muslim country, under an administration that makes it sound like Americans don’t like them, has contributed to a big dip in morale that ripples through our community.  Long commutes in traffic and the gravity of Brad’s work here have also been hard.

I’ve been told in a joking manner by expats that instead of NEA standing for “Near Eastern Affairs” job assignments that NEA really stands for Never. Ever. Again. I laughed, but I don’t dislike it here. It just takes a lot of positives to counteract the tallies in the “cons” column some days. For a while, I was waking up, putting on invisible armor to steel myself for the crunch of chaotic traffic, noise, and pollution just to walk Ramsay to school. My personal mantra became “more wonder, less warrior.” 

My friend Vig made this for me. She’s over on WonderWorks Living at www.wonderworks.ie

I try to remember that I’m a temporary Cairene, and concentrate on embracing what Egypt has to offer while we are here. There are many magical days. Cairo is like a city of secret doors. Streets in our neighborhood don’t have long rows of shops, but rather hidden little nooks that are nestled inside of apartment buildings. Post-revolution, facades are a bit run down with hanging wires, cracks on walls and sidewalks, but you can see that Cairo was once a stunning beauty in a bygone era. Her shy charm emerges in flourishes of architectural details on lamp posts, balcony railings, and wrought iron gates that cast pretty shadows across the terracotta tiles of foyers. Heaps of popping magenta, orange, and yellow bougainvillea cascade over walls, and shady palm trees line the roads.   

Waking at sunrise to the muezzin reciting their soulful call to prayer. Feeling the spaciousness of standing inside of Ibn Tulum Mosque. Climbing a tower and seeing sweeping views of Cairo, its roof line full of pretty spires and minarets.

And there are those perfect evenings, sailing on a felucca with a gentle breeze at twilight, when the moon looks like a circle of frosted glass hanging in the woolen-lavender sky. The honey-rose sun sinks behind the horizon and twinkling city lights begin to shimmer. And we feel deeply grateful to have this experience.


Until next time, be safe, be well, and much abundance,

Tracy