Friday, September 26, 2008

A Word From Don on Honduran Living

Living here changes you. There is a pervasive torpor that seeps into one’s body and soul, a tendency to listlessness. You get up in the morning with the intention of getting some task done. You have a leisurely breakfast. You sit and look out over the sea. It is warm, with a refreshing breeze. It is quiet, with only the sounds of the sea and some birds flying over. Slowly, you feel evermore lazy. That task you were going to do doesn’t seem so important anymore. Well, there’s always mañana. A morning swim or snorkel seems a better choice. Then maybe some time in the hammock.

Things that once seemed important seem markedly less so. Indeed, it becomes a chore even to take care of the things that are important. That manaña mentality is infectious. A tendency to degeneracy must be fought. Devotion to [at least some] discipline must be embraced in order not to simply let everything slide into ruin. We hope that we have halted such advance before we become utterly worthless. I think we are near stability, anyway.

Such listlessness implies a gearing down. Life proceeds at a slower pace here. A lot slower. Alpha types are advised to stay away. The “Give it to me and give it to me now” attitude will not work, and trying to “force” something to happen will probably cause even more delay. Impatience is punished.

The upside is a more civil society. People here are more patient, because they have learned that they must wait for much, and they expect to. For those of you who are old enough to remember (that is, over 55) this used to be the case in the States, too. Back in the fifties and sixties, there was a book called the Sears Catalog. You didn’t just go down to the store and buy whatever you wanted. A lot of things had to be ordered from the Sears Catalog. Then you waited for two or three weeks for them to arrive. People in the States back then were more patient, too. Well, that was then and this is now, where if someone has to wait two minutes for his Big Mac, he is ready to loosen some teeth.

But here there are often long waits for things that in the States now take no wait at all. Those under 60 may wait in line in the bank two hours to make a deposit or withdrawal. The same is true when paying your telephone bill or your property tax or any number of things. Jeanette and I are privileged at the bank. Old folks and pregnant women get to use a special teller, so our wait is usually quite brief. Besides that, we get to sit in chairs while waiting. Life is good for the old folks.

Even with the long lines – and probably because of them - people here are more patient, more courteous, less annoyed and irritable. If someone is blocking another’s path, typically the person who wants to get through will simply wait quietly - with no body language or mumbling - for the other person to move on. I think that most Americans should live here for a year and get an attitude adjustment.

All of this will change your outlook. Something else that will is the fact that in a lot of ways every day is the same. The same in that the day of the week doesn’t matter. The weather is more or less constant, and what we do is up to us; there is no agenda, no schedule. There is seldom any need to do anything, really. One day slides into the next, and then the next.

Paradoxically, even thought this is true, this is also a land of adventure, chaotic at times, frustrating at times. As I said, impatience is punished, patience is rewarded. It is also true that ingenuity and resourcefulness are rewarded. Those who can devise a “work-around” when something fails or doesn’t work as expected will do well. (And there are no codes or government interference to hinder you.) Helpless people will do poorly. It does not pay to be dependent on others for most things here. Likely you will pay much, wait a long time for resolution, and repeatedly be taken advantage of.

While the weather is a constant, change is the other constant. As ingenuity and resourcefulness are rewarded, so are flexibility and spontaneity. In the States there is a mind-numbing consistency. Every town and city looks the same. The highways look the same. The cars and trucks look the same. An Applebees in Seattle will serve a meal that tastes exactly the same as one in Tampa.

Here there are no Applebees (yet, anyway). All of the restaurants are locally owned, and no two are alike. Here a restaurant may serve you an excellent meal on Monday and one that is inedible the next day. Or the item you enjoyed on Monday is no longer on the menu. Or the restaurant may not even exist the next day. Grocery stores may have apples (or any other product) one week and not the next. Events are cancelled an hour before they are to start, with no explanation given. You may be promised a service (an installation or repair) on Wednesday and a week later are still waiting. On the other hand, there are also pleasant surprises. Someone may just show up at your door and give you some shrimp or lobster because they have plenty and simply want to share.

A lot of things happen spontaneously. You get up in the morning intending to do something. Someone stops by unexpectedly. You are invited to go somewhere. You say, “When are you leaving?” They say, “Now.” You jump in the car and go, having already forgotten what you had intended to do. When there is an opportunity, it is wise to take it.

But for now, I fear I have worn myself out writing. Maybe a little siesta will refresh me. If not, by then it will be Margarita time. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write more. But maybe not.


  1. this is the stuff of dreams. May we all be blessed as you two are- with a beautiful country, friendly people, bountiful fresh fruits and vegetables and the freedom to daily choose what we'll do. We love to live vicariously through your adventures and we always look forward to the times we can share with you in your little preview of paradise.

  2. Disco Don,
    So great to read your reflections on life in/on Roatan. I envy your "way of life". As I sit here in the US glued to CNN and MSNBC or Fox News as the media goes ballistic about the economy and worry needlessly about it all. Is it as big as the media thinks it is? It doesn't really matter. What they say. What the politicians say....all of it has a great impact on the markets. True or not the market is crashing because people here spend all day watching cable news like me and become more and more concerned. Perhaps the concern is real, but it's more a panic. No patience. Simply panic.

    At any rate the patience you speak of is lacking greatly here. Thanks for sharing. Perhaps I will take it easy today. Perhaps patience will be taught to my children today. -maria