Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Typical Day in Honduras

In my previous post, I mentioned that Allen and Alan were heading out to investigate the earthquake damage in the city of La Iguala. Well, they headed out, alright, but they didn't get as far as La Iguala - in fact, they barely got outside of the city of Gracias.

They wanted Pastor Hugo to travel out with them, as he had information about where the damaged houses were located. Pastor Hugo wanted to help, but he had a problem. Last night, his truck had gotten stuck in the mud at the edge of a narrow road, and it was impeding traffic - he really needed to get it unstuck. So, Allen and Alan agreed to help get the truck out of the mud first, and then the three would head on to La Iguala.

Getting the truck out of the mud was a bit trickier than it might have been, but it still only took 15 or 20 minutes. Unfortunately, though, in pulling out the truck, a barely-buried water pipe got broken. Now the repair of the pipe was the responsibility of Allen, Alan, and Hugo.

They headed back into town for plumbing supplies, and had to arrange to have the water turned off at the water tank. Eventually, the truck was out of the mud, the water pipe was repaired, the water supply was restored, and the men decided that it was too late in the day to start off on their expedition to La Iguala. So, the trip has been rescheduled for Monday.

I'm sorry to have to put off our report and pictures of earthquake damage in La Iguala, however this days happenings are quite typical of the sort of 'snowball effect' we experience in our life here. One delay or problem often creates or uncovers another delay or problem. We've learned to word statements of our intentions carefully. We'll say "I'm hoping to get to the grocery store tomorrow," or "I'm planning to work on that paperwork this week" - because saying you will, for certain, do something is almost a guarantee that the power will be out, a holiday we don't know about will close all the stores and banks, the road will be closed, the truck will break down, the water will be turned off, . . . well, you get the idea.

I remember once, back when we lived on Guanaja, when on the spur of the moment we offered to make breakfast for a team of gringos which was visiting our town (not a team we were hosting). While arranging their trip, they hadn't realized that a certain holiday which fell during their week would mean that the restaurant (only one in town) wouldn't be able to feed them on that day. I wanted to make French Toast, but found that all the stores were out of bread. I switched to scrambled eggs, only to find that there weren't enough eggs in town for that meal. Then I decided on pancakes, and the power went out, so I couldn't use my large electric griddle (which makes about 8 pancakes at a time), and I ended up making a gazillion pancakes, one at a time, on a skillet on top of my gas stove. HA! Since I actually did find a way to feed the group, I guess I won that time!

More Earthquake News

You may have heard on the news (or maybe not) that there have been several additional, much smaller earthquakes in Honduras, following the original large one on Thursday morning. We haven't felt any of these quakes, as they are happening up in the area of the north coast (near the epicenter of the original quake) but are so much smaller (mostly between 4 and 5 on the Richter Scale). If you're interested in learning more about that activity, La Gringa's blog is the place for north coast info.

Up here in the mountains things are calm, but yesterday we were informed about a city about an hour from Gracias, where there are reported to be many damaged and destroyed homes and churches. Allen and Alan are headed there right now, to find out first hand how much damage there has been. In the poorer parts of the mountains, the buildings are generally built from mud bricks, without the use of cement or any other materials which would help to strengthen them. The city of La Iguala is an area that, until very recently, had no road coming into it - so it would have been especially unlikely that people would have been bringing construction materials in from the outside - which means that the pretty much the entire town is probably constructed of fragile mud bricks.

I'll report back later, when Allen returns with details and pictures. We're hopeful that we can arrange to get some help for those who have lost their homes and churches in that area.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Yeah, we're a bit shook up!

This morning, at a time that might have been around 2:30, our family was awakened by people screaming, and our beds rolling about beneath us. It's hard for me to explain exactly how everything felt, as I was awakened from a sound sleep, and I don't think I was really all the way awake until we were all out of the house.

I know that, right after I left my bed and headed for the kids' rooms, the earthquake paused for a moment. Allen and I froze, but right away things started to shake again, and we jumped right back into action. I didn't hear any noise from the quake, and the motion had a sort of rolling feel to it the whole time. I grabbed David and yelled at Gus, then started toward the front door. Our house has several different types of roofs in different places - there isn't a really good place to stand in a doorway and feel safe - so we were all headed out of the house.

When I had just entered the living room of the house (the room with the front door), the power went out. I stumbled the rest of the way out in the pitch dark, wheezing and realizing that I hadn't grabbed my asthma inhaler, but no way was I going back inside for it!

Out in front of the house, our neighbors were yelling over to us, to find out if everyone in our family was all right. Apparently there had been a big crash at the beginning of the tremor (while I was still asleep - I still don't know what crashed) and the neighbors thought it came from inside our house. With much of our roof being cement slab, it clearly isn't a great house to be in during an earthquake!

The motion lasted just about a minute - scarcely long enough for us to get out of the house. We hung around outside with the neighbors for a bit, and when it was clear that there was no major damage near us, Allen and some of the kids headed back to bed. Others of us, who couldn't imagine sleeping just yet, stayed outside longer. With the power out, there was no way to find out, at first, how extensive the earthquake was. We didn't know how much area was affected, whether we were at the edge of a large quake, or at the center of a smaller one. Phone lines were already jammed, and as people were able to contact friends and relatives in other parts of the country, we were gradually able to piece together the details of the event.

Russell had been sleeping in one of the Land Cruisers, out on our property. Eventually we were able to reach him by phone. His story was pretty humorous: he'd been awakened by the vehicle rocking back and forth, and assumed that one of the cows on the property was rubbing up against the vehicle. He started yelling at the cow to get away, then got the car lights on, and couldn't find the cow! It wasn't until we finally got through to him on the phone (maybe an hour after the quake) that he knew it had been an earthquake.

Less amusing was the fact that, when we returned to the house we realized that Bethany had never awakened, and none of us had realized that she was still in the house. It was, of course, crazy/scary/pitch black - but still - you feel bad knowing that you left a child behind when you evacuated! Several of us agreed that we thought we'd talked to her when we first got outside - but I guess we were wrong, huh?

Later in the morning, Russell got the news (from his girlfriend, who talked by phone with relatives in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, where the electricity was on and people could watch the news) that the center of the earthquake was right near the island of Guanaja, where we used to live. There hasn't been much news from Guanaja that I've seen, but what little I have found hasn't indicated any deaths or damage on the island.

The power stayed out until about 10 in the morning. I just had time to reassure a few people by email that we were fine, when the power went out again, for the rest of the day, until dark.

I've been reading the Honduran newspapers online, and some reports indicate that there was a death here in Gracias Lempira. I don't have any details on that though. There was also a death reported in the department of Lempira, over near the border with El Salvador. It is possible, in the confusion that always follows events like this, that this will turn out to be the same person. In both cases, the reported death was that of a child.

There has been some damage on the north coast, including one major bridge which has fallen into a river, but things seem pretty much back to normal up here in the mountaions. We're praying for those who experienced loss in this event.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Washing Woes, Laundry Laments, and Mourning Mechanical Malfunctions!

My washing machine is slowly dying. I say 'slowly,' because the process has been taking several years. This particular machine was purchased in Honduras, not brought down in a container shipment. Purchasing appliances in Honduras can be expensive, as the prices are high and the quality is often lower than you would expect.

Not long after we purchased this machine, the main dial started to act up. As on many washing machines, the dial had to be pushed in, then turned, then pulled out, in order for the machine to run. We first noticed that the dial had begun to slip a bit when it was turned. We babied it along, but we knew it was only a matter of time before the knob wouldn't turn the mechanism.

Sure enough, the handle of the dial became useless. It was removed, and we then had to turn (by sliding in a circular motion) a flat piece of plastic which had been behind the dial. There was no more "pushing in and pulling out." As far as the machine was concerned, the thing was always pushed in, so we could no longer pause a load mid cycle. We could still wash laundry, however, and that was the important thing.

Our entire time in Gracias, we've fought the battle of the water pressure - which really isn't the fault of the washer. The pressure is frequently so low that it can take most of an hour for the machine to fill with water for the first cycle. With the quantity of laundry we do in a day, we couldn't really afford for each load to take several hours of the day, so we resorted to bucketing water into the machine from the pila, or using the hose to fill the machine.

There is also the problem of water quality. We have to disconnect the hoses at the back of the washer several times each week, to clean out the screen which filters the water that can enter the machine. It's silly that we still do this - since half of the water is coming in through the unfiltered garden hose - but we like to delude ourselves into thinking we are prolonging the life of the machine by continuing to screen some of the chunks of debris out of the water.

Just about a week ago, the timer mechanism, which tells the machine that it is time to switch from agitating to draining, or draining to spinning, has decided to retire from service. So, we must now manually advance the dial, in order to get a load of laundry through the process.

Here is the entire sequence:

Load the washer with dirty clothing and soap. Dry hands thoroughly, because if hands are wet or slippery, it is impossible to slide the flat piece of plastic we are moving (since there is no actual dial). Set this to point to the beginning of the wash cycle. Put the hose into the washer, so that the water is entering both through the machine and through the hose. Stand by the washing machine until it is entirely full, which takes about 10 minutes. DO NOT assume that you can go do something else, and then return to the washer in time to turn off the hose before the machine overflows. You will flood the laundry room if you try to do this. Trust me on that one.

Once the machine is full of water and agitating, go to the kitchen and set the timer for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, dry hands thoroughly and turn that flat piece of plastic so that the machine stops agitating and starts draining. Stay by the machine until the draining is completed (this only takes a minute or two) and then advance the dial-less machine again so that it will start spinning.

Set the kitchen timer for 3 minutes, and do something unrelated to laundry during that time. Then return to the washing machine and advance so that the spinning stops, and the machine begins to fill with water for the rinse cycle. Again, use the hose to speed this process, but DO NOT leave the laundry room. I usually use this time to sort the rest of the dirty laundry into piles, mop the floor, scrub bug parts from the corners of the room, etc.

Once the machine is full of water and agitating again, set the kitchen timer for about 10 minutes. After doing something fulfilling for 10 minutes, return to the washer and advance so that the water begins to drain out of the machine. Stay by the machine for a couple of minutes, until the draining is complete, then advance to the spin cycle.

Let the machine spin for about 5 minutes (setting the timer is recommended, but if you forget at this stage, at least you won't create a flood), then advance to the end of the cycle.

Remove the clean laundry, and begin again at the first step for the second load.

Repeat this process four times, and then the laundry is DONE for the day - well except for hanging it up, taking it down, folding it, and putting it away.

I'm still grateful to have a washing machine - I wouldn't want to have to scrub the laundry by hand on a washboard. Still, sometimes, that feeling of gratitude is harder to come by . . .

Our very good friends in Santa Rosa de Copan, the Ward family, are moving next month to work in another part of Honduras. The house they will be using in their new location is partially furnished, and they are selling some of their stuff - including their new-ish washing machine. We have contracted to buy their machine, and we are praying that our old one will continue to limp along until we can get the replacement.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Show Off Your Smarts re: Honduran Food

Who can name either (or both) of these typical Western Honduran foods? I have no idea if they are typical in other parts of Honduras - I never saw either of these when we lived on Guanaja.

I didn't cook these, by the way - they were bought from a lady who comes around at noon every day. She also sells those wonderful bags of spiced green mango slices. We buy those quite regularly!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Stay Alert!

When driving in Honduras, it is always wise to stay alert to road conditions. In fact, the US State Department recommends that you not ever drive after dark in Honduras.

Perhaps this would explain why:

Notice this road hazard has been marked, to help people see it before running into it. I know that probably makes you feel much safer!

What's that? You'd like a closer look? Okay then, here you go:

Allen estimates that the depression was about 16 feet wide, with a drop of about 1.5 feet. Just in case you wanted to know.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

And I thought mixing the concrete without machinery was hard!

The roof trusses are going up on the bodega right now, and what a job it is! I remember when (back in MD) we would hire a crane, and in one day, set all of the trusses for an entire building in place. Here, of course, things are harder.

Because of the large amount of open space in the bodega/warehouse (with no interior walls to help support the roof), the roof had to be supported by trusses, not just roof beams, as we did in the team house.

Here is the simple team house roof structure (showing off the lovely interior ceiling of the team house - isn't that pretty?):

And here is the much more complicated bodega roof structure:

The huge roof trusses are assembled on the ground, and then man-handled up into place, using manpower, and pullies. The trusses weigh 700-800 pounds each. It'd be nice to have a crane about now.

We're all getting excited about moving out there. Although the picture below includes construction debris, tarps over the wood on the roof, and other unsightly items, still you can see how beautiful this will be, when completed (click on the picture for a larger view).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Raising the Pet Count

As our family prepares to move out onto our country property, we've been more open to the addition of new pets - knowing that soon we'll have room for all of these, and more.

We currently have two adult male cats, which have been excellent at keeping the mice out of our house. However, they are very unhappy about not being allowed to roam at night, for romantic purposes - but here in the city it isn't safe to let them out. We didn't want to get these cats fixed, as we knew we were going to need a steady supply of "barn cats" at the property. You'll be relieved to know that we are aware that two male cats can't do the job of supplying us with future feline generations.

Over the weekend, I got word that a missionary family we know had a litter of kittens ready to go to new homes, so we arranged to pick up a teeny tiny female kitten on the way home from church yesterday. We're on our way to populating our property with cats!

At the pot luck dinner after church, I had a chance to talk with yet another missionary mom, about a request her daughter had made of me. We received, in our Christmas shipment, several used American Girl dolls, in very good condition. We had set them aside for some special purpose, as these are very expensive dolls. The daughter had approached me wanting to buy one of the dolls for herself.

I had no idea how much to "charge" for the doll, but the same girl had three chickens and a chicken coop for sale (as her family is moving to another part of Honduras next month), so we arranged a trade. Once we make the swap, I'll have three beautiful white longhorn hens, in the prime of their laying years, along with a homemade chicken coop. The recipient of the American Girl doll and I each think we got the best of the deal, which is a wonderful kind of trade!

Of course, we also recently acquired a bunny. So now we are up to:

2 dogs
3 cats
4 chickens (the leghorns and Lucky, the one left over from the chicken massacre)
1 parrot
1 bunny
1 bull

Old MacDonald's got nothing on us!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sucanat - I'm sooo in the know!

I hang out in an internet homeschooling forum. While a number of other missionary moms from around the world participate, the majority of the members live and homeschool in the US. So, I hear about things - things I have not encountered, but which I learn about by listening in to the conversations of people who shop in US grocery stores and health food stores.

For instance, lots of people are trying to avoid processed sugar, and are looking for healthier choices. I usually pay only slight attention to this kind of conversation, as I don't have access to the up-to-the-minute health foods you can purchase in the US. Stevia? Agave nector? Sucanat? I don't even know what these things are!

But one day, someone asked the question, "So what is this 'sucanat' you guys are talking about?" and the explanation was: SUgar CAne NATural = Sucanat.

Hey! I can get that here! In fact, I already had some in my kitchen at that very moment! I felt so very in-the-game - something I rarely get to feel these days!

So, in honor of this healthy sweetener choice which I can actually purchase in the market here in Gracias, I present a photo essay on the production of Sucanat.

I buy these cones of sugar at the market, and grate them. I can use the sugar in place of brown sugar in some recipes, although the flavor is pretty distinctive, so the family has to get used to it.

I'll bet my sucanat is cheaper than your sucanat! ;-D

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"Duh Bunny, Duh Bunny, Ooh I love Duh Bunny . . ."

Okay, there might be someone reading this who isn't thoroughly ensconced in Veggie Tales culture. For you, here is a link to a video of the Veggie Tales "Bunny Song." This song has been heard pretty much continuously at my house for the past week, since we acquired a pet bunny.

Although the song is about eating the (presumably chocolate) bunny, our bunny is clearly not going to be on the menu at our house. She doesn't have a name yet, but she is already quite beloved. Unlike most bunnies with which I have been acquainted, this one is remarkably friendly, coming up to greet you when you visit her enclosure, and almost begging to be taken out to spend time with the family.

We received the bunny from a neighbor, who just stopped by unexpectedly and asked us if we wanted it. Of course we wanted it! Our pet count is low right now, since the recent chicken massacre.

My apologies to everyone who will now have trouble getting the "Bunny Song" out of their brains for the rest of the day.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I actually wrote a newsletter!

Sometimes life just seems to get ahead of me, and suddenly someone realizes that I've neglected some essential something - and sometimes I've neglected it for a loooong time. Recently, Allen mentioned to me that I hadn't sent a newsletter in many months, so I made this a top priority (among many other top priorities in my life) and sent out a newsletter this weekend.

If you happen to be interested in reading the newsletter, you can find it on our website. Here's the link.

I mention the Swine Flu in my letter - we have a suspected case here in Gracias, so we're watching the situation carefully. I know the flu hasn't been as deadly as it might be (and we're certainly grateful for that!), but whatever made it more deadly in Mexico just might factor in here, as well, so we don't want to be too complacent about this.