Monday, January 30, 2017

More Coffee Farmers

We had a great day 2 visiting more women growing our coffee and their farms. The mountains are steep and the roads rugged. You can't imagine how they drive during the rainy season. But the views were fantastic and so nice to be out in the countryside.
This is Sue with Juanita and her daughter Yaneli. 

Juanita is married to Saul and they have 6 children ages 8-25 years old. We traveled 35 minutes up rugged roads into the mountains to arrive at their beautiful farm. Juanita is growing about 1.25 acres of organic coffee and 2.5 acres of conventional coffee. They have some cows for milk and meat and also 2 horses. They also grow some of their own corn and beans.

Juanita with some of her coffee. Her fields looked healthy and well cared for.
Juanita, Saul and two daughters and some of their grandchildren.

This is Irma. She and her husband Jobino have 6 children ages 10 yrs - 24 yrs. Both husband and wife grow coffee but keep their coffee fields separate. Their parents and grandparents grew coffee. They recently moved to new land so Irma's coffee plants are just 2 years old. Their oldest daughter is a teacher and their 23 yr old Nilsan is studying accounting at university in Huehuetenango. Irma's 21 year old son works in the coffee fields and also is a mechanic. All the family helps in the coffee fields. 

Irma first and foremost likes the money from growing the coffee. She likes working with the women's coffee growers and she participates in the classes and trainings they offer. She likes growing organic coffee because it's more healthy for her family and the environment and also she is paid a higher price. She and her husband make most of their own fertilizer from the coffee fruit ( the outside of the coffee fruit is removed and the bean is the 2 inside seeds). mixed with manure from their horses and cows. Being able to supply their own fertilizer is a cost savings also.  kids work in the coffee fields too but also are studying in school.

 Irma, her husband Jobino and Yenner Daniel 10 yrs old and in 4th grade.

These families are very busy and we were very grateful they could take the time to visit with us and answer our questions. I asked at UPC (the organization they all work with) if they have lots of visitors. They said we are one of two groups that visit. 

Irma was especially shy with us which is completely understandable. We hope to keep developing our relationship with these women and their families. This is our 5th year visiting and the women we've seen more than once seem more relaxed with us. Our hope is for our friendships and trust to grow more each year.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Visiting the Coffee Farmers

We are now in the mountains of Huehuetenango where our organic coffee is grown by women farmers. We are 12 kilometers from the Mexican border. There are 30 women in the Women's group and most are Mam Maya. They are a group within the cooperative - Association UPC. We began with meeting with four of the women growers- Orfa, Fabiana, Sonia and Maria Luz. We also met with Jacinto the head of UPC and Rolando head of operations. I'd met some of these women over the visits in last 5 years but it was nice to have more time just talking.  Though we have 3 spanish speakers in our group of travelers we got much more clear information with Matt translating.
The women are proud of their coffee and especially happy to get the higher price for their organic coffee. The talked about the importance of protecting the environment and the health of their families by growing organically. There are challenges and it's more work to grow organically but the higher price they are paid makes it worth all the effort.
Orfa, Sonia, Brenda, Fabiana and her daughter.

Matt and Jacinto.
Jacinto spoke about the work of Asociación Unión de Pequeños Caficultores (UPC) besides working with growing the best coffee and finding markets,  they are innovators of better methods to grow and process coffee. They are organized to better their lives, raise the standard of living and focus on their members health, helping kids go to school by seeking scholarships and education for all members on a variety of subjects.
With the bags of coffee: Brenda, Jody, Jacinto, Orfa,Fabiana, Sonia, Sue, Donna, Maria Luz

We then hopped into the back of a pickup for the steep winding trip up the mountains.
Maria Luz with baby showing us her coffee.
Orfa raking her coffee. The coffee dries on a cement patio for 4-5 days. The raking is done each hour helping for even drying.

Orfa has three children. 19 yrs Froidis is working on a 6 month visa in Alaska, 17 year old daughter Deris and 14 yr old Darvin. Her husband also works in the states from December - June on this 6 month visa program. He's been doing this for 16 years. You can tell she has been running this farm herself. She is definitely a leader in the Women's group. Through the organizing of the Womens group they have access to trainings and grants. She is one of the women with goats from Heifer International used for meat and milk. She also has a room on her house which has a bread making business where the women bake once a week to sell and also for their families.
Deris, Orfa and Sue. 
Sue is in charge of F2F coffee business so it's especially great to have her here meeting these women and seeing their farms and lives.
Hiking in the coffee fields, Brenda, Bob, Donna, Sue.

It's so beautiful in these mountains. It's easy to forget how hard life is for these families. It is clear they are hard working, motivated and active in taking advantage of every opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Visiting the Elder Center

We visited the Elder Center of Santiago Atitlan where they feed 58 people 3 times a week and send food home later. They were beautiful. These people have lived through the brutal repressive war against them. You can see so much experience and wisdom in their faces. We had the opportunity of helping to serve the meal. Each person got a drink, 7 tortillas (made fresh right there) and a bowl of meat, potato and broth. Many of these people don't have anyone to help them at home. This center serves a huge service to the community. There is no social safety net in Guatemala, like we have in the U.S. This reminds us how fortunate we are.
The elders waiting for their meals

 Sue and Matt with one of the elders.
Bernabella and Mari making tortillas for the elders.
One of the beautiful elders.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Santiago Atitlan Day 3

Monday 23rd of January.
We had a nice day of visiting other projects in the area. Santiago is a town with many other organizations doing great work. In the morning some of the group went to see Nino's school. Nino is a local Tz'utujil Maya and has been working at the Posada de Santiago for over 15 years. He has worked with individuals and organizations around the world to build and run a private school that runs from preschool through 2nd grade. There are 45 kids and 4 teachers. He was asking our group for some help paying for the food they serve the children at school. School starts at 7:30 am and many students arrive hungry. They serve a breakfast each morning. Sue, Allen and Brenda went with Nino to visit the school. The children were animated and very excited. They sang them a song. We pulled together about $100 to help support his project. Here's a video of the kids.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fiesta with Scholarship Families

January 22, 2017
We had a celebration with the 22 scholarship kids and their families. It was a beautiful sunny morning in Santiago Atitlan when the families arrived to the Posada where we had our gathering. Twenty five years ago, Farmer to Farmer started working with this group- The Weavers Committee.

We spent time talking about our history together, how the scholarship students have excelled and the importance of our friendship. My first visit here was 25 years ago. Many of the University students, I met when they were young and some I remember when they were born.

Brenda and Donna gave out the scholarships to the 22 students along with backpacks for all the students. We also gave the grade school and middle school students notebooks, zipper pouches and pens, We gave flash drives to the high school and university students and each family also received a calendar.

We served tacos and hibiscus drinks for everyone.
 We were asked to support another university student- Jeronimo. He has been working as a mechanic in Guatemala City, but he just lost his job. He is starting university, studying to become a math teacher. How can we say no? We'll just have to do more fund raising. Jeronimo's eldest daughter just started university this month, and his wife is studying to be mental health therapist.
The motivation of these students is extraordinary. Most students work all week and attend university on Saturdays. The families share the care of the kids, cooking and live together.

The group.

Guatemala Trip 2017

January 19, 2017
We began our trip in Antigua the beautiful spanish colonial town. Traveling are: Donna Goodlaxson, Bob Brose, Sue Gerlach, Allen Freiermuth, Matt Buetow, Brenda Betz- Stoltz and me - Jody. It's great to have 3 board members Donna, Brenda and me and also Sue our coffee business manager. I'm especially thrilled to have my son Matt along.
We traveled across the beautiful Lake Atitlan on a boat- lancha arriving at the Posada de Santiago where we'll make our home base for 4 nights.
crossing Lake Atitlan
Bob, Donna, Sue and Allen with the fabulous Delores Ratzan- tour guide. Delores showed them around Santiago Atitlan explaining the history, and Maya spirituality.
We are here to distribute the 22 scholarships to the students and to visit their families, homes and hear more about their lives.
We spent Saturday visiting scholarship kids and families in their homes. It is very humbling to see their homes, their lives and hear about how the scholarships help them attend school.
Sue visiting with Diego and his daughters Cristina and Aracely-scholarship students.

The Sicay family

Meeting on the street with members of the Weavers' Committee- the scholarship group.

Francisco and Rosa the leaders of the Committee. Lola, Nicolasa and Sheny all university students. We brought them all calendars.
These families are so generous opening their homes for us. We asked Rosa, one of the leaders of the group, what we could bring to the families when we visit. I wondered oranges or a watermelon. Rosa said corn and beans. They need the daily staples more than special foods.
The families that own their homes, the land and home were passed down from their parents and probably generations before that. Today land is so expensive that it's impossible for most families to buy. The land is divided up and more floor built up on the homes when possible to accomodate for the families growing.
I'm running off so more later.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A visit to Honduras Part 2

Thanks Sara for another installment!


Morning sounds in Comayagua: roosters crowing at un-godly hours (of course), pigeons cooing, flapping, landing on the tin roof (they are NOT light on their feet!), church bells that sound like someone banging a metal skillet with a spoon, a donkey complaining, pigeons walking – no, dancing – on the tin roof, someone throwing a rock to get the pigeons to shut up, chickens squabbling.

Yesterday we walked from the mountains to the road – a 45 minute walk.  We crossed three or four streams, hopping across on stones.  We passed locusts mating.  Raul showed me a cool little fern-like plant: you touch it and it curls up!  We passed wooden crosses stuck in the ground by the side of the path. Raul explained that these are people who stole from those in the neighborhood – until the community got fed up and a bunch of guys went out and killed the thieves.  I guess that’s what happens when the police don’t help.

You don’t see police about much at all.  You might see a pair of them hanging out at a street corner or in front of a store, wearing bullet-proof vests, their pants tucked into long socks and combat boots.  They cradle big automatic guns in their arms.  Both police and security guards hang out by banks, and many stores have their own security guards, heavily armed and wearing body armor.  Very rarely you’ll see a police truck rattle down the street, a handful of cops riding standing up in the back.

Julia wants to take me to the hair salon – to do Lord knows what – but I’m game, mostly because I’m curious to see what she has in mind.  It’s only hair and it grows out, after all.  My understanding is that we are going to do that today and then go to the party for Josué, Fanny’s son and Julia’s grandson.  I think he’s turning seven?

Sitting in the kitchen before we go to Julia’s, we are watching the news. In another state, near the capital, eight miners are trapped.  The people don’t know how to get them out without the mine collapsing.  Raul says that if the US comes to help, everything will go faster, since the US has more experience.  Some of the miners are as young as 17 and 18 years old.  They’ve been trapped for six days and nobody knows if they are even still alive. The news shows parents and wives, waiting and worrying and crying.

A woman newscaster talks.  Raul tells me that people want to kill her.  I ask why.  “Because she tell truth on the news,” he says.

The tv anchors talk about the lottery.  Raul explains the different kinds of lotteries.  I ask him where the money goes and he looks at me like I’m an idiot.  “In the account!”  No – I mean, not all the money goes to the prizes.  In the US, some of the money goes to schools, I tell him, or football stadiums.  Raul seems baffled.  Finally he says, “I no know, honey.  I think it for the fucking government people.”

They show footage of a body found outside the capital.  Latino tv has no problem showing dead bodies.  They do it all the time.  Bodies sprawled outside, in a kitchen, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, wearing just shorts, in a pool of blood.  I watch four year old Justín playing with legos on the floor.  He looks up at the tv for a couple of minutes, then goes back to playing with his toys.  What does this do to a child?

So we prepare to go to Julia’s house.  I ask how much money to bring for the hair salon and Raul says not to worry, Julia is paying.  I’m wearing my blue dress, since I gather we’re not coming home before the birthday party.  Half the time I have no idea what’s on the agenda.  I catch bits and pieces, but never the whole scoop – and this is not because my Spanish is so bad (though it IS bad!).  I understand everything they say about the plans for the day, but they leave a lot out.  So I just go with the flow and hope for the best.

To my surprise, Raul says we can walk to Julia’s.  I’d gotten the impression that he was hiding me and didn’t want neighborhood gossip.  I’ve met a few of Raul’s friends and I can tell how close he is to them by the way he introduces me.  If he says I’m from Canada, I know he doesn’t really trust them.  Up to now, I thought he didn’t want the neighbors knowing he had a gringa hiding in the house.

In any case, now we walk through the barrio (Barrio San Antonio de la Sabana), past the school and the soccer field with its massive tree in the corner where men sit in the shade and drink.  We walk over the bridge and Raul explains that there used to be a wooden bridge, but it got washed away when the water was high – hard to imagine because the river (again, more of a stream, really) is so far below.  In any case, now there is a concrete bridge.  I remember on the road home from the airport – after one of our forays to find the pita bread – we had to take a detour because the usual bridge had been washed away by Hurricane Mitch.  We could see the old bridge as we rattled across the “new” one-lane, rickety bridge.  Raul told me the townspeople had waited and waited for the government to rebuild the bridge – and then got fed up and built their own damned bridge.  The old bridge still stands – well, half of it, anyhow – as a monument to tropical storms and inept governments.

Raul tells me that when he was little, the water in his neighborhood river was clear and clean.  You could drink it, wash in it, fish in it, haul water for the house.  Now all the toilets empty into the river and trash lines the banks.  I’m drawn to rivers and it’s easy to see how this one could be pretty.  The banks are lush and green, the water sparkles, egrets fish on the banks.  You just have to ignore the heaps of trash and the stink of decay.  And maybe the vultures that sit on a snag high above.

We wind our way, on dirt roads, concrete streets, roads with rocks and potholes.  Raul points out landmarks – where he and his friends played soccer, where they used to sit and talk.  From what I can tell, we end up at Elwin’s house (Pive’s house) and meet a number of women, and though Raul explains who they are, I’m totally lost.  Little girls – maybe 10 or 11 years old – shyly peek at me and grin.  One brings us drinks.   She says it’s Jamaica (hibiscus tea) but it tastes more like overly-sweet fruit punch.  I’m thinking we were supposed to be at Julia’s, but Raul chatters away.  I meet their parrot – who, unlike the parrot at Raul’s house, has a truly impressive vocabulary, plus an assortment of laughs and whistles, all of which he likes to try out at intervals.

The women smile indulgently at Raul.  They treat him like a slightly addled younger brother, someone who is cute and funny and a little odd.  They tell Raul that he is lucky to have such a beautiful wife, which makes me roll my eyes, but Raul insists this is true.  One of the women brings out shallow wooden dishes that the abuela has painted with Honduran country scenes, and tells me to choose one.

One of the girls trots by with a towel wrapped around her, and then scurries off to get dressed.  When she reappears fully clothed, she walks with us to Elwin’s restaurant.  Apparently we are her escort.

We meet more people at the restaurant, including Elwin’s niece, a gorgeous young woman who keeps staring at me and finally asks Raul if my eyes are real.  I had forgotten that blue eyes might seem exotic.

We walk on to Julia’s house.  Everyone is getting ready for the party.  They’ve got a huge Spiderman piñata, and Spiderman balloons hang from the rafters outside.  Julia is curling blue ribbons, Fanny is tying red and blue balloons in clusters of four or five, and Iris and Tia Anna-Luisa are using a pump to blow up more balloons.  I take over the pump and I amuse Josué by blowing up a balloon and letting it go so it shoots across the patio erratically.  Raul helps hang the clusters of balloons from the rafters.

Later, in the kitchen, the women are working like dogs.  I insist on helping and they have me cut up spinach and onions and lettuce.  Raul drifts in and out, helping here and there.  It’s interesting that the men are basically absent.  Tia Anna-Luisa and I make little sandwiches under Julia’s direction: slather a mixture of mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard on a half roll, slap on a square of cheese, then a little lettuce, then a slice of ham or chicken.  When we’re done with that, we fill little squares of dough with cooked ground beef, wet the edges and seal them for Julia, who puts them in the deep fryer.  Sometimes one of the younger women comes in to help, but it’s mostly Julia, Iris, Anna-Luisa and me.

Julia brings out a big bowl of masa that has garlic, onion, tomatoes plus some spices (liquefied in the blender) mixed in.  Now we make pastelitos, creating a tortilla out of the masa, filling it with a mix of ground beef, rice and vegetables, folding it over and crimping the edges.  Julia has a little press she wants us to use.  I try and it’s a total disaster.  The tortilla gets holes in it and the filling falls out.  Everyone laughs and Raul takes a picture of my attempt, but tells me not to worry – it’s my first time.  In my defense, Anna-Luisa mixes more water in the masa and I make the pastelitos like she does – without the little press – and they come out just fine.  Partly, it’s a matter of knowing how thin you can make the tortilla and how much filling you put in.

I wonder when the party is starting, but it doesn’t seem to have a specific time.  People just drift in, talking, helping a little, starting to eat the appetizers we’ve been making.  Fanny’s boyfriend brings a laptop and speakers out to the patio and soon is blasting music – mostly punta, but some reggae, some reggaeton, salsa and merengue.  Julia suddenly roots around in  a cupboard and hauls out a tablecloth from El Salvador and some matching napkins.  She gives them to me, plus some little neoprene soccer jerseys (one of Honduras’s national team, the other Brazil’s) that you put over your coke or beer bottle.  Raul makes suggestions of things we can get for her in the US – a garlic press, a fly swatter…  Raul makes everyone laugh as he listens to his ipod (he likes Mexican Duranguense music) and sings along – badly – at the top of his voice (this while the other music is blaring from the patio).  I tell Anna-Luisa that he can’t sing but thinks he can and this tickles her no end.  The women shake their heads.  He’s a goof – but a good guy.

Raul and I dance in the kitchen, doing some punta, which brings cries of amazement and delight from the women.  Punta is Garifuna music and the dance that goes with it.  It’s basically fast booty-shaking and totally exhausting.

Anna-Luisa and Raul tell me to take a break and I’m glad to, having just realized that we’ve only just finished making the appetizers and are on to making the main course!  So I wander out into the patio and meet cousins, aunts, uncles.  The girls – the 11 to 16 year olds like Fanny’s daughter, Lohany, and Karla’s daughter, Fabiola – circulate with trays of food.  They are gorgeous – decked out in their party outfits. They are slender, with beautiful skin and large, lovely eyes.  Mostly, though, they move and hold themselves like queens.  They are gracious, smiling, graceful.  Somehow, though they are busily serving guests, they make me feel like they are honoring us with their presence.

One of Raul’s cousins wants to dance with me, so we dance punta, bringing more cheers and clapping from the outside crowd who weren’t in the kitchen with us.  They love it that the gringa can dance punta.  They yell, “Sarita!  Sarita from the United States!”  Raul grins and joins us, even though his knee isn’t in great shape.  We dance and dance and dance (thank God, not always punta but I am sure I’m going to be totally sore in the morning).  It’s 90 degrees and humid as hell but nobody cares and soon we’re all glistening with sweat.

We take a break from dancing to let the kids take turns whacking the piñata. They get candy from the piñata plus ice cream plus goody bags of sweets plus cake and the pop they’ve been drinking all evening.  They’ll have no teeth by morning.

I’m impressed by this party – there are probably 30 guests and the food just keeps coming.  It’s hard to determine relative wealth here, because there aren’t necessarily conspicuous signs of it.  I suppose nobody wants to be targeted by thieves, etc.  When I asked Raul where the rich people live, he looked confused.  “All around,” he said, waving his arm vaguely.  After a while I realized that rich people live behind the better kept up, slightly more ornate walls.  Everything – cars, patios, houses – is hidden from view.  And there really aren’t wealthier areas and poorer areas.  I mean, there probably are, but I certainly can’t tell and it seems like often a nicer house sits next to an old, run down shack.  The garbage in the streets and the potholes remain the same.  It turns out that Julia does pretty well.  Her husband is a driver on the US military base and she runs a restaurant out of her house.  It’s all a little confusing because I know that Raul has sent money to help Yamalih and Tania (who seem to need it) but also to Julia (who doesn’t).  Raul says Julia is super strict and controlling – a good woman who maybe takes her job as matriarch a bit too seriously.  I think Justín gets the short end of the stick.  Fanny’s son gets a big bash but I’ll bet Justín doesn’t.  Yamalih didn’t come to the party, nor her boyfriend, since apparently Yamalih and Julia are in a bit of a snit, but Karla and Tania brought Justín. I notice he hangs out with Maite, Gaby’s son, but not with Fanny’s kids.

The guests started drifting in around 2 PM and the birthday festivities culminated with a Spiderman cake around 6:30.  There’s no present opening so we don’t know how Josué likes the Spiderman t-shirt we bought him.  Around 7:30 a few adults drink beer, but not many and the intake seems to be very reasonable.  I think there are serious drinkers, but they stay in the back of the patio where the women won’t notice them. 9:00 we try to leave.  But first Raul gets distracted and then Julia, finally out of the kitchen, wants to dance with me.  There’s a lot of talk about how to get home because it’s dark and therefore dangerous out on the streets and there’s a dearth of transportation options.  Raul says the cabs here are dangerous and unreliable.  He proposes I ride with Andres and his girlfriend on the motorcycle and he’ll walk home.  I refuse, and say I’ll walk with him, partly because I don’t want Raul walking home alone in the dark and also because I don’t really know how much beer Andres has had.  In the end, Andres and Maude ride alongside us – slowly, slowly – as we walk home.  Raul holds my hand in one hand and his pepper spray in the other.  We walk home in the cool breeze of night without incident.

That’s another surprise.  I was expecting weather much more like Minnesota summer – or the time I spent in the Yucatan, where the heat and humidity never broke and people with any money had AC.  Here, nobody has air conditioning.  They have ceiling fans, and floor fans (Raul, sweetly, bought a fan especially for my visit), but at night it cools down a lot and there are often cool breezes.  We go to bed with the fan on, waking up at some point during the night to turn it off and cover up with a sheet.


This morning we dink around.  I play a lot with Justín – driving his cars around and drawing pictures in the back of my journal for him to color.  I’ll have to take care that I have enough pages to write in, at this rate.  He’ll come in to our room, lean on the bed and smile, “Arco iris? Casita?” meaning he wants me to draw a rainbow for him or a little house.  I can’t draw to save my soul, but I do my best, drawing mountains and rivers with houses, palms, pines, banana trees.  I draw chickens and cows and horses.

We’re going to deliver the coffee cooperative money to Andy’s friend, Hector, today. Then we’re going to go to Julia’s for chicken soup and after that I want to find  somewhere to buy children’s books for Justín and for the kids – Pastor’s kids – in the mountains.  We walk through the barrios – little school girls dressed all in white, white ankle socks and black shoes, dark braids swinging.  A couple of leathery vaqueros in cowboy hats, a group of boys with their uniform shirts untucked as they jostle each other on the walk to school.  A man biking with his family – wife and two kids – perched on various parts of the bike.  Women with big pots or bags balanced on their heads.

Hector has kind, shrewd eyes. We sit in the patio, surrounded by bits of machinery, and chat.  I take the money from my bag and we count it, to make sure it’s all there.  We talk about Andy’s new job in California – Hector wants to know why he’s making the change and we talk about opportunity, helping other schools, the lure of being able to grow vegetables year-round in the milder California climate.  Hector sits back and says no, he doesn’t think Andy’s doing it for the money.  We talk about the cooperative, farming in general, the Land School and how our school functions.  Hector is more forgiving of Honduras and its troubles than Raul is.  We talk about the issues and I realize that Raul is rather a Nervous Nellie when he says the buses and taxis aren’t safe.  Hector says that if we wanted to see the Mayan ruins at Copan or go to Tela on the north-east coast, there are buses that go directly there and these are safe.  I realize more and more how huge it is that Raul – who is so very risk averse – would cross the border, an undertaking way more dangerous than riding the bus to Tela.  Raul tells stories about snow and ice, about hitting deer on the highway and tapping maple trees. I realize I should have brought pictures and Land School maple syrup for people here.  They are intrigued by the whole idea of maple syrup.  It sounds so outlandish.  They ask if it’s like honey – yes.  I realize later that it’s sort of a honey/cane juice kind of idea.  I really like Hector.  There’s a depth to him that commands respect, an ability to see through the surface to what really matters.

From Hector’s house we go to Julia’s for soup and visiting.  Then we stop by Pive’s restaurant where they ply us with food and drink.  The little REI lanterns I brought are a huge hit – I’ll remember that and bring more next time I come.  Raul carries one everywhere we go and likes to demonstrate turning it into a flashlight and back into a lantern.

Then we go in search of books and toys.  Franny, my godfather’s wife, sent along $50 for the children.  I’ve decided to focus on Justín and Pastor’s children.  Julia’s extended family get a lot.  And I’m not going to get sweets.  They get enough of that probably. I’m looking for books and nice toys, art supplies and coloring books so that my journal doesn’t get taken over by rainbows and little houses.  It proves really hard to find anything.  When we ask people about a bookstore, everyone looks blank.  Ditto somewhere that has coloring books.  When we finally end up at the mall and find a children’s store, it’s disappointing.  Mostly action figures and dolls.  Everything is very gender-specific and ugly.  Superman coloring books for boys, Dora or Disney princesses for girls.  I buy a couple of matchbox cars and a jump rope but bank on finding better coloring books elsewhere.

Finally, in a sort of Target-like, dollar-store-like place, we find some semi-respectable coloring books – of animals with the names in English and Spanish – plus a little truck, a Mr. Potato Head, some crayons, colored pencils, writing/drawing paper and some scissor/pencil sharpener packs.  I’m excited to bring these to Justín and to the little girls in the mountains.

We get home and watch the news – the usual reports of a police vs gang firefight in San Pedro Sula, dead bodies in Comayagua and Tegucigalpa.  The big news is the mining accident and how the government is giving up the rescue mission. It’s highly unlikely there are any survivors as it’s been over a week.  Other miners and friends of the missing will continue to try to recover the bodies, but the issue everyone is talking about is how embarrassing it is that this country doesn’t take care of its people.  Not only are they giving up, but other mines have elaborate safety measures and it seems this one did not.  I don’t understand why the US or Chile don’t help.  The kitchen is quiet.  Nobody feels like talking as they show footage of weary rescue workers and distraught family members.

DAY 7, JULY 8 – Tuesday

This morning we go to visit a friend of Raul’s who teaches in the neighborhood kindergarten.  We talk with a number of neighbors and old school friends of Raul’s on the way there, but I am rather distracted by two men trying to get a bull to walk down the street.  I’m assuming it is a steer, but it looks like a bull and acts like a bull and saying it is a bull sounds more exciting, so I’m saying it is a bull.  It has massive horns and keeps pawing the ground and turning around to toss its horns at the guy behind it.  (This is, by the way, on the street just a little past Raul’s house.)  One guy has a stick to shake at the bull and the guy behind uses the coil of extra rope to intimidate the animal.  I’m wondering if we’re not going to get a scene similar to the bull running at Pamplona, but then we round the corner and the bull is out of view.  Later on we see the bull tethered by a small patch of grass at the end  of the soccer field, so the mystery of what they were doing with the bull is solved.

End of tangent, back to the kindergarten.  The kindergarten is four rooms in a row with a verandah in front; in front of the verandah is a small yard with two slides and a couple of swings.  The whole thing is surrounded by the ubiquitous wall and barbed wire – but the front gate stands open.

The doors and windows are simple bars, making it look vaguely prison-like,  but really it’s just to allow for air circulation – besides, many of the doors and windows in Comayagua are bars or grates.  Bunches of boys and girls in dark skirts or trousers with white shirts or blouses are filing into a classroom.  They look at me curiously.  We find Martha miraculously unoccupied.  Her class is off doing something else for forty-five minutes.  My understanding is that she teaches them English, but she never says a word to me that isn’t in Spanish.  She says she’s been teaching for 22 years and it’s hard on her throat.  (I presume because she has to yell?)  She has 40 kids in her class, she says, and that’s too hard.  She says teachers don’t make much money here -- $400 a month.  She says she might go back to sewing clothes.  She and Raul talk a while about whether I could get a teaching job here – kind of a contingency plan if Raul doesn’t get his visa, though, considering class sizes, I’m thinking that growing coffee in the mountains sounds better.  I’m curious about the local Montessori school and wish I’d asked Andy more about it.

(Dear God in Heaven – I think these people aim to kill me with massive quantities of food.  The folks at the restaurant gave me a massive plate of chicken and fried green bananas at around 10:45 and now it’s noon and Julia is feeding me a huge plate of salad, rice and some kind of ground beef stuff.  And she’s watching me eat to see how I like it!)

Back to the kindergarten… the classrooms look awfully business-like for kindergartners.  The chairs are arranged in a semi-circle facing a blank wall they must use as some sort of chalkboard.  The walls have the same kinds of cheesy posters that traditional US schools do, but at least they don’t plaster the walls with the same gay abandon – they are more artfully and carefully placed.  There are papers, notebooks – nothing that looks like a fun book though…

Next we walk to the museum, which is housed in a beautiful and well-kept building – a series of rooms surrounding a lovely courtyard planted with flowering trees, green plants and a fountain.  Turns out it used to be the president’s house, back when Comayagua was the capital of Honduras.  There is at least one more museum in Comayagua, but Raul says they closed it because people kept stealing from it.  The museum we visit is the Comayagua Museum of Anthropology and Lenca People.  The rooms surrounding the courtyard house, in chronological order, artifacts found in the state of Comayagua.  So it starts with fossils and dinosaur bones (including some pretty impressive femurs and a really cool fish fossil.  It seems that some kind of massive, ugly sloth lived here at one point.  Then they have petroglyphs and obsidian points, simple pots, then more elaborate, decorated vases and urns.  Carved manos and metates, clay figures that look very Mayan – except they are Lenca, which is the largest indigenous group in Honduras.  They seem pretty darned advanced – I don’t know why the Maya get all the press.   The next room holds even more ornate pots, painted and sculpted.  There are necklaces and ornaments of precious stones. Then we come to the colonial era exhibits – suits of armor, fancy dresses, statues and documents.  They have recreated the bedroom of the… archbishop?  Whoever was in charge of the cathedral, anyhow… with replicas and some artifacts.  In the final room are figures dressed in the fancy clothes and masks worn during the Feast of San Sebastian, complete with noisemakers.  I buy a noisemaker in the gift shop, which is a little disappointing.  Lots of schlock.  I don’t see why they don’t recreate the beautiful Lenca pots.  Or the petroglyphs.  Or the jewelry.

We have our very own tour guide who accompanies us, turning the lights on and off and pointing out very obvious sights: “Here we have statues from the church…”  We take a picture of me peeking out of a replica dinosaur egg, and we see the original clock belonging to the cathedral.  I love the Lenca art and the petroglyphs, but I also feel so happy being in a building that is cared for, loved, and beautiful.

After that we go to the shoemakers at the side of the road to get my flip-flop fixed.  I am tempted to suggest I just buy another cheap pair (these ones were from the junior high lost and found), but the shoemakers could use the business.  There is a good block and a half’s worth of them, set up on the side of the road, each with a little makeshift roof, a little work table and a stool.  We are supposed to pick them up later that day, but we forget and pick them up the day after.  He had re-attached the straps very neatly and all for about a dollar.  We gave him two dollars, and I still feel like we should have given more.

We eat lunch at Julia’s – pork soup with red beans and green bananas, eaten with tortillas, rice and lime.  Then we watch a total fiasco called the Brazil/Germany World Cup game.  It is just embarrassing.  Lohany and I are the only ones who are rooting for Brazil and everyone else teases us unmercifully.  Germany gets four goals in as many minutes and wins, 7-1.

And then, suddenly, it is time to go somewhere – I don’t know what the scoop is, but I just go with the flow.  Turns out I’m finally getting my hair done!  I was beginning to think I was off the hook…  Raul, Fanny, Julia and I walk a few blocks to a little house that’s totally indistinguishable from any other house except that, if you look through the open door, you can see a barber’s chair and hair washing station.

I tell the lady to do whatever she wants.  I was a little worried they’d want to color my hair, since that always looks so lousy as you try to grow it out and because I think older women with dyed hair look weird.  You look at their lined faces and the hair just doesn’t match up.  Ines, at one point, tried to convince me to dye it, but I dodged her somehow.

Turns out I needn’t have worried.  They all ask me if this is my natural color and exclaim in amazement when I say it is.  So hilarious that my plain brown hair streaked with grey seems so exotic!

I get a manicure and pedicure as well, and the haircut is actually pretty good, getting better after I’ve gotten home and let it do what it wants.  It pleased Julia no end, and cost a whopping $9 – all of it.

I’m left puzzling again about money and family and how it all works.  Going anywhere in a car is a total pain (unless it’s just around town).  The only real option is Roberto, and that means taking Julia and Fanny, at the very least, but usually Karla and one or more of the kids.  Obviously, if it’s my trip, I’m happy to pay for gas and pay for Roberto’s lunch or dinner, but the expectation is that I pay for that plus everyone else’s lunch or dinner, which ends up being spendy.  On the other hand, Julia has just paid for my spa day, plus she’s fed us at least once a day (and sometimes twice) the whole time I’ve been here.  She’s given me gifts – the table cloth, napkins and beer things (I don’t know what to call them), plus a glass with pictures of Honduras and, best of all, a little mug painted with a Honduran scene and, in the bottom, a little clay (but very life-like) cockroach.  So you serve someone a little coffee and when they reach the bottom of the cup, they get a little surprise!

After the haircut, we hang out at Julia’s.  She feeds us (again) and just as we’re finished and she’s about to cook something up for Josué, the electricity goes out.  (Serves Josué right for being a picky eater and wanting something completely different than the rest of us!)  Raul is thrilled because he gets to show off the little flashlight/lantern I got at REI.  Julia gets some candles and we sit in the semi-darkness and chat.  They have all kinds of questions – like, what is the deal with the US and Puerto Rico?  How come Puerto Ricans aren’t Americans but get to come to the US and work?  What state comes next, after Texas? (Um… you mean, to the north?  Or east?  What state comes next? (like this gringa is sure dumb and her Spanish skills are lame) Oy vey!)  We talk about how the US ended up with Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California after wresting the land from the Spanish.  Part of the time I’m trying to figure out the question, part of the time I’m trying to figure out the answer, and part of the time I’m trying to figure out how to put the answer into a Spanish anyone will understand.

Finally we walk home in the dark, without a motorcycle escort but with Raul’s pepper spray handy.  The streets are quiet.  Justín is home and playing with his new truck.  He’s happy and insists I play too. I show him his new crayons, and he asks for an arco iris.  I’m totally annoyed, though, because the new crayons are awful.  You have to press super hard just to get any color on the paper, and then they break really easily.  How do you ruin crayons?  The whole point is that they put color on paper!  I feel totally cheated and am glad that Pastor’s kids will get the colored pencils instead.

DAY 8, July 9 – Wednesday

This morning Justín and I spend some quality time together after a breakfast of cereal with milk and plantains with Honduran cream.  We play with the new cars, we draw rainbows and I start making Honduran houses, with a lava-mano and a pool, with a parrot in a cage and some chickens in the patio.  He likes these casitas best of all.

Around 10 AM, Raul and I walk into town, walking part way with a friend of Raul’s from school.  We have a good time chatting.  I’m getting pretty good at exchanging pleasantries in very un-grammatical Spanish.

Raul drops me off at the restaurant while he goes off to get supplies for our next trip to the mountains.  I read for a little and then Annie, Pive’s wife, and her cousin, Lilian, come and sit with me.  We chat and laugh and have a lovely time, me speaking my pidgin Spanish and all of us laughing when I can’t make myself understood.  Maria (not Doña Maria, Pive’s mother, but the Maria who works in the restaurant, gives us all an enormous plate of fried chicken, fried green bananas, and salad.  I do my best, but when Raul returns, he doesn’t help me and tells me (with some glee) that Julia is going to feed me too.

Later, Annie and Lilian walk part way to Julia’s with us.  We talk and talk, and when we part, I tell them they are my sisters.  We grin at each other and hug.  Annie says that when I come back at Christmas (Raul keeps perpetuating this story – so much so that I am starting to believe it and will be sorely disappointed if I can’t) I can see the baby (she’s due in October).  And I continue to dream, pretending that we’ll have a visa for Raul come December and I will return to Honduras for my winter break and bring him home to Minnesota.   It’s all so unlikely though and I wonder if I am setting myself up for total disaster.

Julia’s lunch is delicious (a lime-y ground beef dish with rice and salad and tortillas) but I’m starting to feel rather spherical.  And then she hauls out the torejas – a sort of pancake made out of ground, toasted rice that is then soaked in a super sweet syrup with cloves and nutmeg.  They are traditionally made at Christmas, but Raul told Julia to make some for me so I could taste them.  Raul also told me that everyone has to leave the kitchen when someone makes torejas because looking at the batter will ruin the eggs.  Ok then.  Good to know.

As we walk up to the casita on the mountain (after taking one of those “dangerous” taxis that seems to be driven by another of Raul’s friends), I start daydreaming about our little place in the mountains we’ve been talking about.  The little house will be wattle and daub, with a verandah like Dimas and Maria’s.  We’ll have a natural pool – I saw a video showing how to make these and they are totally lovely.

In Honduras, if you want to insult someone’s intelligence, you say he is a donkey.  (Interesting how American’s have taken this whole thing farther with the double entendre and call the person an ass, which makes it mean instead of playful.)  So Raul and I tease each other about being donkeys all the time.  When we hear a donkey bray as we walk through the city, we each try to be the first to point out that the other is making too much noise. Justín’s new coloring book has a picture of a donkey and I told him it was his Tio Raul, to everyone’s amusement.  Raul gets into my fantasy of our little casita in the mountains, and says we’ll need a four wheel drive to get to it.  In any case, he says, maybe when I have a good job, we can get a car we leave in Honduras, that we can use when we visit.  I tell him that we don’t need a four wheel drive.  We’ll get two donkeys and name them “Raulito” and “Sarita” so that they will carry our luggage up the mountain.  Raul likes this idea and we spin our dream as we walk.

Once we reach the casita, I go for a swim.  I call Raul down to look at a little salamander who’s invaded the pool, and we see some oropendula birds in a tree.  I watch them for quite a while, enjoying the cool water with the hot sun on my shoulders.

Then Juan wants to go up the mountain to get some bananas.  Raul asks if I want to come too and I agree enthusiastically though perhaps not very wisely if I think about the difficulty of the short walks we’ve already done.  I have plantar fasciitis and neuromas, so walking isn’t particularly pleasant, but I don’t think of that, given the excitement of a hike farther into the mountains.  Juan, Mariano and Raul don’t seem worried, but Julia looks dubious and explains that it is a very long walk.  I should have known better, but I do tend to throw myself into an experience without really thinking of the consequences.

Raul wants me to wear rubber boots from the pile near the hammock, but they all look hopelessly too big and I don’t have good socks, besides I’m sure I’ll get blisters if I try to hike in over-sized rubber boots without appropriate sock-wear, so I say I’ll wear my tennis shoes, thanks so much.  Raul shrugs and puts on the boots.

I get a little worried when the men insist on bringing along a couple of flashlights.  I think it is about 3:30 in the afternoon and it gets dark around 6:30.  However, I figure you only live once and if I don’t go, I’ll regret it, so I grab a bottle of water and some bug spray and announce that I’m ready.

The first thing I do is fail to see the barbed wire I am supposed to step over.  I will say that Raul keeps on telling me to be careful, but he does it whether I need to be careful or not, so I start to ignore his twittering.  Also, it’s not like he specifically pointed out the barbed wire, and it is close to the ground and covered in foliage.  So, of course, I come to a squeaking stop against the barbed wire, my feet slide down the hill and I fall on my rear end, raking my shin on the wire.

The men are aghast, Raul alternately scolding me about not being careful and apologetic for not warning me properly.  I’m scraped up, but I’m not a wimp and I brush off their worried twittering and say it’s nothing and let’s get going.

After that, we’re down by the river and the walking isn’t so treacherous.  We follow the little stream, crossing and re-crossing it on stones or fallen logs.  The trail is reasonably wide and not particularly steep, but Mariano cuts a walking stick for me, partly because Raul, Nervous Nellie that he is, keeps twittering at me to be careful.  But he is also enjoying playing the gentleman, giving me a hand to steady me as I hop across the stream while he wades through in his rubber boots.  But then we come to a place where there are no rocks – none upstream or downstream.  Raul does remind me of the rubber boots I rejected, but it’s the only time he comes close to saying, “I told you so” – and he says he’ll just carry me piggy-back.  Mariano and Juan watch – bemused and amused – as Raul gamely carries me across.  I’m three times his weight but he is sweet about it.  In any case, I stop counting after the fourth time Raul carries me across the river (because he’ll have to do it all again on the way back).  He’s saving me having to walk in wet tennis shoes and he’s doing it without complaint, without even teasing me about turning up my nose at the rubber boots.  This is one reason I married him, this ability to cheerfully do crazy things for my sake without making me feel dumb about it.

And then the path gets rough – narrow, very steep, often covered in damp and slippery shrubbery or with little rocks that roll under your feet.  And there are pretty nasty drop-offs on one side or the other.  Raul’s twittering comes faster and louder.  I have to stop a few times to catch my breath – it’s all up and down now and I can’t decide which is worse because while the uphills are steep and taxing, the downhills are dangerous.  As we walk, Raul alternates exclamations about my safety with comments about the mangoes, coffee plants, and assorted tropical fruit trees – many of them I’ve never heard of.

Just as I decide that maybe I should just wait here and rest, let Raul, Mariano and Juan go get their bananas, we are there.  Apparently it is Juan’s land – and the coffee plants here are tall, healthy, covered with plump, green coffee berries.  Various kinds of banana trees grow here, as well as a kind of small, very hot red pepper.

Raul films the men cutting down the banana tree.  They love that.  They love his smart phone and crowd around to see the pictures and videos he takes.  Raul explains to me that you have to cut down the whole tree – and cut it at the right place – so that the tree can grow again and still be strong enough to bear a bunch of bananas.  Juan, Mariano and Raul stuff an enormous sack with green bananas.  Mariano goes back up the hill to get a bunch of a different kind of bananas.  Raul guesses the big bag weighs maybe 80 pounds and Mariano’s little  bunch must be a good 30 pounds.  We gather some of the little red peppers and then start for home.

While there is more downhill than uphill on the way back, it is far from easy.  Raul often grabs the back of my shirt or hangs on to my elbow so he can keep me from slipping.  I’m gratified to see that he slips sometimes too – though Juan and Mariano, laden with massive quantities of bananas, never, ever slip and this annoys me no end.

As we get down to the river, Juan keeps waiting for us (and him with 80 pounds of bananas on his shoulder!) and suddenly he appears with an oropendula nest.  Raul wants to bring it home, but it scratches him and he’s startled.  He gropes inside the nest and discovers there’s a dead bird in there.  He and Juan rip the nest open.  It’s an egg-bound oropendula.  It couldn’t finish laying the egg and so just died in its nest.  We lay it under a bush and carry on.

The last ten minutes, we do have to use the flashlight after all, and the way ahead is lit up occasionally by fireflies blinking here and there in the dark around us.  I’m glad to be home as I’m tired, sweaty, covered in dust and blood where the barbed wire scratched me.  I realize I didn’t see as much as I wanted because I spent so much time looking at my feet!

Julia is shocked because I don’t want any dinner (all that food in the city seems like a long time ago, but I’m not at all hungry).  A couple of men have come to visit and they all sit around, talking World Cup and looking at Raul’s videos of banana harvesting and mountain work.  I sit and partly listen, partly record random details about my trip that I haven’t recorded.

Some fruit I have tried:

Maimones – delicious – possibly the same as Dragon’s Eyes I had in China?  Like grapes except with a peel and a huge seed

Nance – ok on its own but as a juice there’s a sweet, lemony flavor that gives way to an after-taste of old socks

Anonas – looks like a hand grenade.  A cottony, sweet fruit with a funky skin and beautiful seeds

Zapote – orange sized and with a smooth, brown skin.  Cut open, it’s the deep orange of a sweet potato.  I tried one that wasn’t quite ripe and it was like sweet almonds in fruit form.

Sincuya – another fruit – round and green and totally spiky.  Inside, it has yellowish flesh and large green seeds.  It tastes stringy and only faintly sweet.

Paterna or guama – kind of like a large bean pod (like tamarind) – also sweet and cottony but mostly seed.

Maroca – like plantains but better

To bring next time: REI lights for Julia, Yamalih, Dimas & Maria, Julia of the mountains, old magazines like National Geographic, real crayons, children’s books in Spanish, real crayons and good art supplies.

I have an old Smithsonian magazine and Julia, Juan and Mariano are fascinated.  They pore over every picture, even the ads.  I wish there were more pictures.  I explain – to the best of my ability – what some of the articles are about.  We talk a little about snakes.  Like Raul, the others don’t like them at all.  I try to explain about good snakes – the ones that eat mice and rats, for instance, but they are not persuaded that there’s any such thing as a “good” snake.  Many here are poisonous, but not all.  Julia says there was a snake here just the other day, trying to eat a chicken.

Finally, I’m feeling sleepy, so I patter off to bed and the cool breeze that wafts through the open windows.