Tuesday, June 30, 2009

So, How Has Your Week Been?

Mine's been . . . unusual.

Let's see. We had the backhoe getting stranded on the other side of a swollen river. It's back now, by the way, and the trenches are being dug as I type, to put in the water lines to our new home. On Saturday, while I sat around and chewed my nails while watching the unfolding political events in Honduras, Allen and Russell retrieved the machine. As we hadn't had any rain for a couple of days, the river was about as low as it was likely to get during rainy season. The men removed the air intake, and re-attached it upside down, to create a sort of snorkle. The driver had to also hold a t-shirt over the opening, to keep the water which was splashed into the air from falling into the engine and drowning it. The water in the river was higher than the large back tires of the machine.

Hmmm, what else? Oh, while the country was under the supposed military takeover on Sunday, my ds19 had to travel to Santa Rosa de Copan for a soccer game (only essential travel allowed - but everyone in Honduras knows that soccer IS essential). You might think this was too dangerous - and you really have no idea! He was driving past some road kill, and a vulture flew up and he hit it - or possibly it hit him? Russell swerved to try to miss, and so the impact was right in front of Russell! The windshield of this vehicle already had a large crack down the middle - which means we should really be relieved that the whole thing didn't fall apart.

More? How about this one - today we are having our garden tilled. With a plow. And oxen. I wish we had the camera out there, but the camera went with Allen today, as he is visiting the village with the earthquake damaged houses, and needs photo documentation of the reconstruction. I hear there might be protests on the road into Gracias later, so I hope he can make his way home. He's pretty resourceful, though, so I'm not really worried.

That's not enough? Then how about dinky, unimportant Honduras being the top news item all over the internet? That's been unique, for sure.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

We are fine up here

For those who are checking in on us after seeing the news that the Honduras military has removed our president, I wanted to let you know that we are fine. Life is pretty much as normal up here in the mountains (although our power is out - for who-knows how long - but that's actually pretty normal, too).

From what we can tell, people are pleased and hopeful that the supreme court, congress, and military have taken action against the illegal process being pushed through by the president (former president?). I have not seen anything here that would suggest that the military is taking any inappropriate action, or that this is a "coup," in the sense that a illegitimate party has taken power. My read is that the president was working outside the boundaries of his authority, and the other parts of the government used their power appropriately to remove him, and I have heard that they have replaced him with his constitutionally appointed successor.

It is a bit worrisome to see how the major news organizations (outside of Honduras) are explaining this story - as if the military has taken over the country. This is not what we are experiencing here. I have a number of contacts all over the country, and have not heard anything remotely like that.

Friday, June 26, 2009

It's my first coup

In case you haven't caught this in the news, Honduras is having a scary political showdown right now, in which both sides are claiming that the other side is trying to stage a coup. The president is on one side, the congress and the courts are on the other side.

I'm not going to take the time to write out all of the details of this very complicated situation, because La Gringa, up in La Ceiba, has already tackled that task, and has certainly done a more thorough job than I would be able to do. Here is her blog, with an overview.

As of tonight, the situation remains very much up in the air. We are waiting and watching, not panicking but remaining cautious and trying to be prepared for whatever happens. We are glad to be up in the mountains, and not down in one of the big cities where these events are transpiring.

We really need your prayers right now, for the country of Honduras. Please pray that the upheaval will be resolved peacefully, and that the outcome will be the right one for the continuance of democracy in Honduras.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Everyday life - but it's so weird here!

Today we finally sold our Toyota pickup truck. We've not used it since Russell's second accident with it, in January of 2008! It was in the shop approximately forever, and when we finally got it back, although it runs okay, it was full of squeaks and rattles. Since we've been able to purchase a second Land Cruiser, we don't really need the pickup anymore, so we've had it sitting in front of our house, with a "for sale" sign on it, for several months.

Finally, this morning, we sold the thing! We're all glad to no longer be in the car selling business, but I have to admit that I was hoping a different buyer would come through to purchase the truck. This past week, Allen was negotiating a deal with a neighbor, who wanted to trade us 14 cows for the truck. I thought this was such a cool thing - and would make fun reading for the blog. Sadly, it was not to be, and we just got money for the truck, from a different purchaser. How ordinary!

But, there is something else unusual going on right now. We own a backhoe, which we allow the municipal government to use for many projects. We need to use our backhoe to dig trenches so that we can install our personal water lines for our new home. Since we hope to move onto our property around August or so, there isn't a lot of extra time to get this work done.

However, the last time the government used the backhoe, they left it parked in the town where they last used it, as it needed some repairs which needed to be completed before the job could be finished and the machine returned to Gracias. That wouldn't have been such a big problem, except that the town, Quelacasque, where the backhoe is sitting, is on the other side of a large river, with only a ford across. You see where this is going, right? The river is currently swollen, because it is the rainy season, and the water is too high for the backhoe to be driven across.

Now, I really think this kind of thing is strange, and interesting. I don't ever recall anyone offering to trade us livestock for a vehicle, when we lived in the US, and I'm sure we never lost access to any of our construction equipment for long periods of time because we couldn't cross a river.

At least it's never boring here!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Homeschooling in the Wilds

Occasionally the younger kids and I decide to pack up the school books and a picnic lunch and spend the day homeschooling out in the woods, on the property where we are building our new house and other buildings. Friday was one of these days.

We've had cool, rainy days where we sat most of the day doing school in the back of the Land Cruiser, only spending a bit of time out of doors (although we did build a fire and roast hot dogs and marshmallows that time), and we've had days which were too hot, and we kept having to move to stay in the shade. On those too-hot days, we're kind of glad to get back home again!

Friday was just about perfect, however. It was mostly cloudy, and not too hot or cool. We took along one of our tents (an easy-to-set-up tent, since my work crew consisted of only Boo and David), and we were glad to have it, as the gnats were bad, and we were able to find some relief from them in the tent.

We wanted to set up the tent in a large level clearing where we will be doing our vegetable gardening in the future - only we couldn't find the clearing! Our property is very large and rough - it's easy to get lost in the woods. Eventually we gave up, and just found a small open spot in the forest. The tent was 8' x 10', and the clearing was just about the same size. Here is the view we enjoyed, as we sat and did schoolwork in the tent:

Here are the hard working students:

After getting through our reading, math, and history, we enjoyed some nature studies:

The goal was collecting and comparing leaf structures, and the pattern of leaves as they grow on the plants. A happy and unexpected event was the inclusion of several bugs on the leaves that were brought into the tent:

Other interesting finds of the day:

Large unknown plant - we had Russell pose with it for scale.

Old twig nest

These bushes with berries are everywhere - but we don't know what they are.

Is this a wild orchid?

Have I mentioned lately that we can't wait to get to live up there?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Doors and Windows

Here is the picture I thought I took last weekend - a nice exterior shot of the security bars on the windows of our new buildings. We designed these bars, based on the bars at our previous rental house. There is no limit to the designs for metal window bars and gates. See this post and this post for a tour of the bars of Gracias. Window bars, people! ;-D

Our welder friend, Rodrigo, created the bars from our design, and is working with us on the installation and touching up the paint once the bars are installed. He also made the metal doors for the back of the warehouse/bodega. One of these is a simple people-door, but the other is a huge sliding door. The sliding door is complicated by having a swinging door as part of the structure. In this way, we can open the door all the way, or simply swing open part of the door, as needed.

Notice, also, that there is metal roofing above the bodega in that picture! We have the back half of the roof finished, and a large part of the front prepared to receive the metal sheets in the next few days.

The carpenter is a bit behind schedule on the wooden doors and the windows, but we're gently pushing him to get them done soon!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Story in Pictures

Campesino (man from the country - usually a farmer) passed out drunk on the street, on Sunday morning.

Sunday morning traffic can be kind of heavy in Gracias.

Watch the guy on the motorcycle - he's a good Samaritan.

With the motorcycle parked on the side of the road, he moves the endangered fellow to the sidewalk.

Sadly, it isn't uncommon for men from the tiny villages in the mountains to come into Gracias, sell their products, and then spend the money they've earned getting excruciatingly drunk.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Look at these walls!

Yesterday I visited our property, to see the progress. I was especially interested in seeing the security bars for the windows, and the finish on the interior walls.

I think the interior walls are quite lovely! We wanted the look of adobe, and I think it's a nice look.

Somehow, though, I managed to neglect to actually take a good picture of the window bars! So, you'll have to trust me that they look really good, considering that I'm not all that fond of the look of security bars. These bars are, however, a necessary evil here, and we worked hard to make them as non-objectionable (to us) as we possibly could. You'll barely see some of the bars in the pictures, but you need to see them from outside to get a good feel for them, and I've got no pictures of that - sorry.

This picture is the best I've got for now. I promise to try to do better next time!

The pictures below are of the interior of the bodega/warehouse. The wood on the floor is part of the roof structure - much of which was installed today. The large pieces of metal on top of the wood are the parts for the sliding metal door, which will be the loading door for the warehouse.

I love seeing things starting to come together like this!

Friday, June 12, 2009

It's been a big week

There's been a lot going on here this past week:

1. The younger kids (Rachel, Chris, Bethany, and David) were at MK (Missionary Kids) camp this week. Every year, at a site near beautiful Lake Yojoa, this camp is held as an opportunity for the gringitos to get together and have a blast! This was David's first year to be old enough to attend, and Rachel was a counselor, not a camper. They return home today, and then I'll have a mountain of laundry to wash!

2. Kirstin, who is 21 now, moved back to the US for awhile. She left on Monday. We bought her a two-way ticket (the one-way tickets were so much more expensive, it seemed silly not to do so), with a return in three months, but we're all in agreement that this is a completely flexible situation. If she feels like she wants to come back, she's welcome to do so, and if she feels she'd like to stay longer in the US, that's fine, too. She's staying in Florida with my parents, continuing her online classes, looking for a job, using banks and libraries and mega-stores, so that she can have some experience with a state-side lifestyle.

Not having Kirstin around the house is a big change for everyone! We'll miss her, but Grammy and PopPop are enjoying having her with them for awhile.

3. At the construction site:

The interior walls of the buildings at our property are receiving their final finish coats, prior to painting. This makes a big difference in the "feel" of the place - the interior spaces seem more like rooms now.

The security bars are being installed on the windows of the buildings. This is another huge step. I hope to get some pictures tomorrow.

Allen has negotiated a deal for our water supply on the property. The lack of a working plan for our water has been hanging over our heads for too long - we're thrilled to finally have a solution!

4. This was the week when the Pastor's Bible Training School was in session for the month. There were 60 students in attendance, who were taught lessons on the history of the church. My part was baking four sheet cakes each day, for their supper desserts. I sometimes think my part in the school is what keeps attendance up so high . . . ;-D

5. I've been working with one of our dogs, who has been suffering from what I think might be a case of distemper (yes, he had shots, so I'm not sure why he would have gotten this - maybe the shots weren't any good?). I first noticed that he wasn't eating. He's mostly Boxer, and when he loses weight he looks more dead than alive. He lost a lot of weight. Then I noticed that his eyes were getting red and infected, and shortly after that, his eyeballs started to cloud over, and he was clearly losing his sight.

We started him on antibiotics, and an anti-viral drug the local doctor recommended, but he continued to go downhill. The day before the kids left for camp, he started losing the use of one of his back legs, and he had several small seizures. I had to warn the kids to be prepared that they might have one less dog when they came back from camp - but the next day he made a surprising turnaround, and was running about and playing almost like his old self. He even knocked over the kitchen trash can, raiding it for chicken bones! (Bad dog - but I was glad to see this sign of his old spunkiness and appetite!) He's doing okay now, but still recuperating.

So that's pretty much been my week. With the kids gone, I'd hoped to get ahead on a few things, but I found that I mostly spent my time handling the housework that the kids are usually responsible for! I'm looking forward to their return!

Nice try, though . . .

I have to say, I really appreciate it when anyone in Honduras uses their English with us, no matter how limited their grasp of the language might be. Even with my ever-increasing Spanish (I didn't say it was increasing quickly, mind you), reading English in a store or speaking English with a doctor, or when dealing with most any situation, just makes life a bit easier for me.

At the store the other day, Allen was intrigued by this jar of pickles:

Sorry the picture is a bit blurry - just realize that this is what the writing on packaging actually looks like to my failing, middle-aged eyes, okay? Anyway, the producers of these pickles helpfully labeled them with this English-language information: "Pickled Pickles." In spite of our best efforts (reading the microscopic print on the rest of the label) Allen and I were unable to determine what kind of pickles these were - sour? dill? sweet? spicy? Well, at least it's good to know that they are pickled pickles.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Feeling a bit rattled . . .

We felt another earthquake tonight here in Gracias (I guess I should say "last night" since it's after midnight now - but it seems weird to say "last night" about something that happened just an hour ago).

This was a much smaller earthquake than the previous one we felt here (5.7 vs 7.3 on May 28th). It was also of very short duration. I waited it out, and decided it was not necessary to rouse the kids for this one. That was a good call, as I couldn't have gotten everyone awake before it was over. It gave us a nice rattling, though, and got my heartrate up a bit.

There have actually been quite a few small quakes since the Big One on May 28th. According to the blogger La Gringa in La Ceiba there have been a total of ten, before the one tonight. These have been of various strengths, but most all have been on the north coast or just a few miles offshore. We haven't felt any of the quakes between the first one and the one we just experienced.

Honduras isn't generally as seismically active as these recent days have been - so this surge in earthquake activity is leaving us all feeling a bit shook up!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Earthquake Damage Report, part 4

The family in this house, which I believe is a grandmother, her two daughters, and their children, are still living in the house, in the part where the roof is still up, because they have no where else to go. This is one of the few houses where the roof structure actually fell down. It's amazing no one was hurt or killed!

This family, with four children, has to completely rebuild their house. The left side (in the picture) fell completely, and the right side, although still standing, is too dangerous to live in.

The family has removed the rubble from the left side of the house, and they are in the process of erecting a tent over what is left of the walls (the partial walls will keep out animals). Then, they will live in the tent while they tear down and reconstruct the other part of the house. Once they can move into that part, they will be able to rebuild the part they camped out in.

This house used to have a wall here. The family is still living in the other part of this damaged house.

More Earthquake info and pictures

I forgot to mention this in any of my previous posts, but Alan Hayes has also posted information and pictures on his blog, which is here.

Earthquake Damage Report, part 3

A mother, with six children (and no father in the home) lived in this tiny house, which was totally destroyed in the earthquake, and is currently being torn down. This woman has no resources with which to rebuild, and she and her children are currently squeezed in with relatives in their home.

This house, oddly enough, lost both of its short end walls, while the longer walls remained standing. This is one of the structures which will have to be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up - hopefully with a cement foundation this time!

Earthquake Damage Overview

Here in the department of Lempira, most of the damage from the recent earthquake is in an area known as La Iguala. If Lempira is like a state, then La Iguala is like a county. Within La Iguala, most damage occured in the village of Tablones.

According to our investigation yesterday, in the area of La Iguala there are approximately 49 houses which are so damaged that they will have to be completely torn down (these numbers can only go up, but that is why I am saying they are approximate). An additional 200 houses are seriously damaged, but we believe they can be repaired.

Our hope is that we can be involved in the reconstruction process, and help the homeowners improve the quality of the new construction, so that the houses will be stronger, and more likely to stand up in future earthquakes.

Allen's goal is to raise the money to purchase cement and rebar, to distribute to those who are completely rebuilding. Building an adobe brick building directly on the ground is not a strong solution, and building an all-cement or cinderblock house is prohibitively expensive (wood houses don't work here because of the existence of a very hungry termite population). By starting out a new house with a concrete and rebar foundation, the house will have a much better chance of "holding together" when shaken. In addition, Allen is recommending that the houses have another band of concrete, at the tops of the exterior walls, for the same reason.

Here's an example from our personal construction site - even with a building made of cinderblock, the strength is much greater with the cement band atop the walls.

The people in the affected communities have already started the process of clearing the rubble, removing the clay roof tiles (as these can be reused in the new house), and knocking down the buildings which cannot be salvaged. If we are to get stronger foundations under the new houses, we must become involved without delay. Allen is talking with several organizations and private donors, and hopes to have some funds to help with this quickly.

While gathering info yesterday, Allen and Alan also distributed blankets to most of the children, and passed out food to the families affected by the earthquake. We have already distributed a quantity of food that would cook up into 26,000 children's size meals.

Earthquake Damage Report, part 2

This young mother of 3 (soon to be four) is one of the people who lost their homes in the earthquake last week. In some ways, she's one of the luckier ones, as her husband is still with her family, and will be able to oversee things for them. He was, in fact, in the process of building an addition onto their home before the earthquake.

In the foreground of the picture above, you can see the older part of the house, which is completely destroyed. In the background is the newer, still-under-construction part of the house.

Sadly, the damage to the new section is extensive, and all of the new construction will have to be torn down.

For now, this family will be living in this structure. They have attached tarps where there should be walls, for privacy and protection from the weather. The box the father is holding in the picture contains blankets for the children, and food. These items were available to us to donate through the generosity of Kids Against Hunger.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Earthquake Damage Report, part 1

Allen, Alan, and Pastor Hugo made the trip to La Iguala today, and they brought back hundreds of photos and many stories. I only have time to write a short post tonight, but I hope to add more photos tomorrow.

This is the home of an elderly couple. The walls of their home are severely damaged. The roof didn't fall in, as you might think from this photo - the first thing people do with the damaged buildings is to remove the salvageable clay tiles off the roof, in order to reuse them.

Here is a close-up of the house, so that you can see some of the damage to the walls.

The couple in this house might actually have enough money to rebuild (unlike most of the homeowners affected in this area), but it would mean spending all of their savings - basically their retirement funds would be gone.

We identified approximately 49 houses which are so badly damaged that they need to be torn down and rebuilt, and approximately 200 other houses which sustained serious damage, but which can probably be repaired. According to our research, about 250 people in the area of La Iguala are now homeless as a result of the earthquake, and a total of about 1250 people were affected by this disaster.