The Coffee Break

Mural, Cafemania, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

When I was a little girl in Cajun Louisiana, my mother and aunt often chatted over French roast coffee in the afternoon. I remember my aunt’s polished red nails, as well as the occasional cigarette. It was the 1960s. Many women stayed home to raise children. Smoking was not taboo.

Forty-five years later, the smell of hot coffee or nicotine smoke often brings me back to those days. Today, Starbucks and McCafe deliver caffeine through drive-through windows. We connect through texts and social media more than face-to-face encounters.

In Honduras, at least in the capital, the coffee break is still honored. At three o’clock, capitalanos* in Tegucigalpa stop working. Men step into sidewalk cafes and relax with associates over a cup.  Women visit a relative or a neighbor, often serving crisp, unsweetened bread called rosquillos alongside thick, sweet cups of coffee.

Even though Honduras is heavily influenced by the mores of the United States, I hope this custom doesn’t change. The impromptu caffeine klatch builds a sense of community. In a country where institutions are failing, and gangs are quickly filling the void, the locals need soothing rituals more than ever before.

This week, the folks at Velvet Ashes are discussing community. Velvet Ashes is a gathering place online mainly for expat women. Come back later this week to join in the discussion here or at their site, with your comments or blog posts of your own. And bring some rosquillos, please.

Do you have memories of coffee breaks? Or do you honor the tradition in your locale? Is the after-drink cocktail somewhat the same? Let’s start a conversation.

*capital residents

Speaking of Southern Comfort

SC logoSouthern Comfort is a liqueur invented by a bartender in New Orleans in the 1870s. The branding is ingenious. Life in and around The Big Easy is supposed to be, well, easy, isn’t it? And intoxicating as well, with cocktails wrought in the French Quarter.

Well, life isn’t always comforting nor intoxicating. For one thing, Southern Comfort is sold in varying strengths. If you are not observant, you may purchase less than 100 proof. And life in the South can be less than 100 proof comfort, too.

I moved north to Louisiana about six months ago, after nearly a decade in Honduras. I love home comforts, again. Soft beds, bathtubs, hot water, regular electricity, English spoken everywhere are very nice comforts.

Louisiana living isn’t paradise. I am reminded, in often rude ways, that my dog is too loud. Well, in Honduras, everyone and everything is loud. Amplified music and amplified dog barking were the norm, not the exception.

I forgot about the zealousness of rules here. There are laws regulating everything, some of which are very costly. I can’t drive without insurance in Louisiana. I have to buy homeowner’s insurance in order to qualify for a bank loan. Even getting a library card involves multiple forms wanting reams of personal information.

Then, there’s the high cost of comfort. I can’t buy a bag of fruit from a truck vendor on the corner. It’s against the law. Instead I have to pay high supermarket prices or even higher prices at legally sanctioned farmer’s market, who pass on the city fees to me, the consumer.

My very identity feels under siege as I adjust to life in the US again. Thank God I have had a period of time to adjust before I need to work again. All of this comfort is sometimes quite uncomfortable as I make the transition to my birth country.

Jesus promised in his last words to his disciples that in his place he would send The Comforter after he left this life. He was referring to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. I am glad that I can ask daily for the Spirit to dwell in this place, namely within me, so that wherever I live, I can have the comforting presence of God guiding me along the unexpected paths of life.

That’s true comfort, knowing Him, whether I live in a developing country or in the midst of southern comfort once again.

This entry is linked to Velvet Ashes, where expatriates and mission-minded folks are pondering what comfort means this week.

How I learned to stop worrying and learned to love the Spanish language

Somewhere in our collective memory, we have a story of a North American who visits ______ (Mexico, Peru, or wherever). The person, usually an attractive young woman, stands in a crowded stadium and shouts out a cheer, only to realize belatedly she yelled out a slang word for a female body part, not the cheer she thought she knew. The collective crowd of tens of thousands instantly yank their heads in her direction as her companions yank her down to her seat.

She knows the sole remedy is to return home, take the veil, and enter a cloistered community. Her life as tourist/volunteer/missionary or whatever she thought she was doing outside of English-speaking regions is over. Her life will now be devoted to knitting woolen booties for orphans in an windowless cell.

The story has endless variations, with gender, language and occasion changing. The result is always the same. Never, ever, ever will the naive English speaker attempt speaking a foreign language again.

I lived in Honduras for almost a decade. I have uttered a lifetime of embarrassing phrases in Spanish in less than 10 years. I have asked a young boy to show me his breast, rather than his chest. I once spoke that I was full of human waste, not fear. I suspect there are many, many things that I said that I haven’t been told because I have kind, merciful friends there.

Despite being overly aware of my language deficiencies in my first years in Honduras, I realized that at some point,  I was using Spanish all of my working hours. I could converse with my co-workers, bank tellers, grocery store clerks. When I got home, I often didn’t switch to English right away. Even the dog became bilingual.

Am I as good as a native? No, I am not even close. Spanish has at least fourteen verb conjugations for each verb. I  understand half of those, and speak almost half of that number, which means I exist mainly the present tense when using Spanish.

What was the key to my success, albeit modest success, in conquering a foreign language? I stopped worrying and started speaking at every opportunity. I used what little language instruction I had received, and I applied it as best I could.

Language is fraught with opportunities, both good and bad, for communication. It can unite us, divide us. It can bring information that saves or bring news of disaster upon us. We depend upon language to stave off isolation and build community.

My language lesson today for anyone reading is quite simple. Don’t worry. Embrace the experience of learning a language, whatever the results may yield. One day you will realize you have some success. Why even your dog will understand you. He will sit steadfastly when you say, “come,” in any language you choose.

This post is linked to Velvet Ashes, a forum for women serving overseas.

If you are leaving a comment for the first time, this site automatically holds it for moderation. After that, you are free to add comments without any registration or moderation.

Comments build community! I want to hear your language stories!

What I mean when I say clean

My friend, Sandra, visited my house a few weeks ago. She had never been to my place. The first thing she said was, “It smells clean.” She could scarcely have paid a sweeter compliment.

My dad was from a clan of cleaner-than-thou folks. His mama could wear out a wash rag on a kitchen cabinet. His brother kept a can of spray Lysol in the glove compartment of his car. My dad’s mechanic shop had a floor that one could perform open heart surgery.

My sister and I inherited the clean gene. Since I have been in college, we have engaged in a ritual of vacuuming when we see each other, before we eat, before we chat at length, we clean. A good clean sweep clears the air between long spells.

You can scarcely imagine how I was affected by my first extended stay in Honduras. I was volunteering with World Vision for eight weeks during a break from teaching. My guest room was in the patio of a middle-class home. The place seemed alright, except that the city was repairing sewer lines in the street.

For 8 weeks, raw sewage assaulted my senses every morning and every night. To make things worse, my worksite was in Villa Franca, a neighborhood that lacked basic services such as garbage pick-up. Mounds of refuse with the accompanying starving dogs greeted me at the entrance of the colonia. The toilet at the kindergarten and clinic was a hole in the ground that, for modesty’s sake, was enclosed within a wooden shack.

Not surprisingly, I had one of my best years as far as weight loss. I may be fat now, but by God, but there have been lean years, too. Those smells and sights there helped motivate me to shed a few pounds.

After I moved to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, I realized that Hondurans are not on a mission to be unsanitary. It’s just hard work to stay clean when one is poor and government services are not up to US standards.That’s why after I was there a few years, I began to ask my guests from the US to attempt to try to not appear horror-stricken at meal times.

My US friends looked like they were indulging in a sacred rite, more holy than Communion, when Purell was pulled out of a backpack. Conversation ceased, hands were held out, and the alcohol flowed freely.

I still like clean. In fact, I love the smell of clean. I just know now that Honduran housewives work very hard to keep themselves and their homes clean. We should all try hand washing our clothes for a week. Or dishes for that matter outside because most lack plumbing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it’s time to bathe. We will use a bucket, a bar of soap and a towel behind a small curtain in the yard. That’s how most of my Honduran friends keep themselves clean.

“Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow,”  is part of a prayer in Psalm 51. Jesus referred to unclean spirits as afflicting people. He came to bring something utterly holy and clean in exchange for the stain of sin and the uncleanliness of evil. The wonder of God’s word is how universal it appeals. Most of us want to be clean. Spiritually, to be clean, is something I think we have to receive from God.

But what about physical cleanliness? God isn’t here in human form to wash dirty clothes or bathe children. That’s where you and I have to do our part. We have to care about the poor who don’t have access to clean water.

Last year, I participated in a fundraiser for Blood:Water, a non-profit funding water projects in Africa. I will write a post about how I helped bring clean water to those without access soon. Why not see how you can be involved? Follow the link to Blood:Water for information.

Bubu’s Incredible Voyage

When I moved to the US from Honduras in mid-2014, I had to decide where my dog, Bubu, was going to live. It was going to be costly and impractical to get him to the US. I resolved to find a home for my large German shepherd in Honduras.

Then, someone contacted me via a Facebook group for expatriates. She had a friend who was driving to Texas from Honduras. Would I be interested in lending my dog to Kevin?

Kevin had lived in Honduras, working with the indigenous Miskito population. Now, he was back in Texas, but he made frequent trips to Honduras. He was going back alone.

It was a dangerous voyage. On the way south on his latest trip, he had encounters with bandits in Guatemala and Mexico. Kevin thought a German shepherd would make an ideal companion for a solo driver.

So, off went Bubu. Our trips were not at the same time. I was flying at the end of July. Kevin Bubu's first journeyleft Honduras nearly 30 days earlier.

I learned Bubu had been useful to Kevin in Central America. They hadn’t faced bandits, but he had nearly broke a window in Kevin’s truck trying to take out Guatemalan border agents. In the struggle, Bubu had broken through his leash and leather halter.

Guatemalan authorities didn’t check the dog’s papers or Kevin’s, for that matter. The same thing happened in Mexico. My dog reacts strongly to guns and uniforms.

When Kevin reached home, he went inside to greet his family, and the dog jumped out, too. When Kevin came out a few minutes later, Bubu was seated in the truck grinning.  Kevin’s children love him. They want one of his puppies if I decide to breed him.

second journey of BubuBuBu stayed in Denton, Texas for a month. I picked up Bubu in Senatobia, Mississippi. Bubu had escorted Kevin’s wife to visit family. Senatobia is in spitting distance of Memphis, Tennessee. It was another long journey for Bubu from north Mississippi to south Louisiana.

third journey If you should visit, be warned. I own a German shepherd.

The charts on the side of this post show my pet’s journey. According to Google, Bubu spent about 54 hours in transit,16125_4762075707282_3255134093102763171_n not counting time spent in border crossings or rest stops. He loves riding in vehicles. 

Ricardo’s Story

Ricardo was a daily part of myricardo life when I lived in Honduras. I don’t remember when I first met him, but it has been at least a year or more that he grabbed hold of my heart and my hand.

Ricardo does everything with the utmost enthusiasm. If he were a bit larger, he would knock me down when he runs to greet me. And he always greeted me with two hands out, hugging, holding and giggling. Since Ricardo has hearing and visual impairments, he tends to shout, too.

We helped cure him of the shouting, so at least my salutations from Ricardo might be a bit rough, but at least I could escape without my ears ringing. His mom is raising him alone, supporting herself and Ricardo by selling tortillas on the street. They live in a tumbledown wooden shack with a host of other relatives.

I am not in charge of the project that helps Ricardo and the other kids ricardo homewho receive meals and educational support in my former ministry in Honduras. However, I am in touch with the ministry that is overseeing the children. They are looking for someone to sponsor Ricardo. Want to help?  Need details.

Follow the link to His Eyes for information on tax-deductible giving.milk+and+Jesus




And Then There Were None

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Walter, learning to read again

“I am hungry all of the time,” said Walter.

He sat on the steps outside of the kitchen door. His dirty clothes hung off his body.  His hair had whitish wisps around the ears, a sign of malnutrition.

I began to feed Walter and later, his sister.  They lived quite close, so they walked  home after a morning sandwich, and they came back later for a hot meal. We didn’t have the resources or the need to feed all of our kids twice a day. This family was obviously an exception.

The two children lacked water, soap, shoes, and decent clothing. The mother

Walter and Ixa at home
Walter and Ixa at home

worked when she could in the neighborhood cleaning houses in exchange for food. Some days, she had no work, thus, no food to share with the family.

Over the year or so that I knew Walter, he began to change. He began to wash. I often sat with him to practice reading and math skills long forgotten from the days when his mother could afford the fees.

Regular meals and occasional bags of beans and rice sent home allowed mom to spend money on water, soap, and other essentials. In addition, my manager talked with her, and she made a hard but good choice: an older son, who desperately needed more calories as he neared adolescence, was sent to live with her sister. I never forget, though, how she left walking and crying from our doors. No decent mom wants to banish a child from the home.

The new ministry that has taken ownership of my children’s project is seeking sponsors for Walter, his sister Ixa, and nearly 40 other children who lack sponsors. A monthly gift of thirty dollars will help ensure  that each child gets a meal, lessons, recreation, and now, English and computer lessons as a new teacher has come aboard with these skills. In addition, school supplies will be provided for the year.

box of boys (4)
Walter loves our project. He’s always up for a picture, a prank, or a game.

I hope one day we can say that extreme poverty has been lifted in this neighborhood.. I think the Father would cheer if we could say to our supporters: And Then They Were None who didn’t eat daily, or didn’t attend school or collected trash to look for something to eat, wear, or sell. 

To learn more about tax-deductible giving follow the link to His Eyes Honduras.