Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tropical Christmas

This is what Christmas in the Caribbean looks like.  Not a snowflake in sight. Beautiful sunny morning, about 77 degrees. I took a breakfast casserole over to Bob and Debi's to share with them and Bob's cousin from Canada. Don, unfortunately, was not feeling well and stayed home on the futon.
We exchanged gifts and I received these lovely sandals. This photo really doesn't do justice to the sparkly beads. I also had a stocking full of little treats to open! I was very surprised to find a small gift from Rachel under the tree - beautiful necklace made by Pedro that she purchased from the Made in Roatan shop. Just what my outfit needed!

Thanks, Debi, for taking these photos.

                              Bob's cousin took this shot of Debi and I in front of her Christmas tree.
 Off to church to watch some of our kids sing Christmas carols in Spanish. They did a great job.
After church, some of the ladies served birthday cake for Jesus, made by Tia and Leah. Everyone enjoyed having cake and coffee.

After the cake, we began passing out the Christmas baskets that Tia, Lynne and I had put together. They were gratefully received.  Tia took this photo of Stephanie, Chuck and I handing out the baskets. Inside each one was the makings of a traditional Honduran Christmas lunch - sandwiches! Plus bags of Christmas cookies, fresh fruit and veggies and some staples like beans.
 Later that evening, we went back to Bob and Debi's to share a Christmas dinner with them, James, Zenola, and Carlos, his mom, Anna, his sister Kendi and her friend. It made for a nice full table. Don was feeling a little better and joined us. I had baked a turkey and Debi and I each made the other dishes. I took a plate of Christmas cookies which were a big hit. They don't usually get those. Neither Don nor Carlos ate very much though. Both not feeling that well.  Don got to open his Christmas gifts and stocking.
                                                Kendi, Jeanette, Anna, Debi and friend.
It was fun to share Christmas with these sweet people. Anna and the girls don't speak English, but we had no trouble sharing Christmas memories and laughs. Between Carlos, Zenola and Debi, we had plenty of translators. After dinner, Debi lit the advent candle. It was lovely.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Spreading Christmas Joy

 Day three of the island food drive. I was well enough to join the group for a day of spreading great joy. In this photo, we are jammed into our packing station which is now filled with mattress and boxes of pillows donated by the cruise ships which will be distributed after Christmas.

This was, without a doubt, the most meaningful thing I have ever done. Don and I have participated in food drives and community outreaches in East St. Louis many times, but never was it more amazing than this.
The people we visited around the island were some of the poorest of the poor. They truly have nothing. So many without work (and no welfare system here), so many children who had no toys, so many families without food. There was such excitement when our caravan pulled into a community. Word spread quickly and children came running when they caught a glimpse of Santa driving his pickup truck.
Nidia had Santa's list, a book containing names of families in desperate need. In each community she had worked with a contact person in organizing this event and in working out a schedule. There were approximately 1000 bags of food distributed and in every community there were disappointed people whose names were not on the list. We felt so bad that we didn't have more to give.
 This was our first stop, in an area tucked up behind West End's beach road. This boy was very pleased with his new ball. We were so thankful that at the very last minute of loading the vehicles, Abraham received a phone call informing him that a couple of boxes of balls were enroute. This was a real blessing. We had just been discussing how we had precious few toys for the boys. We also had 1000 goody bags containing candy, chips and cookies for the children.
                                       A very happy mama and child. Her smile says it all!
 The little ones were thrilled to get a stuffed animal to hug and love on and which could obviously double as a hat. 
 Next stop: Flowers Bay to visit with a group of senior ladies at the Universal Church of God. I love how colorful they are, each dressed in her best for the occasion.
Some of the ladies posing with Santa who is wearing his Caribbean santa pants and sandals. He was a big hit wherever he went.
 Our third stop was a section of Coxen Hole that I didn't know existed, tucked way back behind other buildings. We had to walk in and carry everything with us crossing little streams and following a muddy path way back. We left our armed security guard behind to watch the loaded vehicles.
Our fourth stop was our favorite, tucked way up high in the hills. These children were literally jumping up and down and squealing with delight when they saw us approaching. As the news spread, the children came running, clapping their hands with joy. They were just precious. Each and every child thanked us, often throwing their arms around us and squeezing tight. We had tears in our eyes. I thought about how grateful they were to receive one small toy and a little bag of candy and could not help but contrast that with Christmas in the United States where many children receive a pile of presents.

Stop number five was in the Swamp section of Coxen Hole. We were approached by people not on the list, begging for some bread or a toothbrush. Thankfully, we had a lot of bread generously donated by an island bakery. I was the tooth fairy at every stop, handing out up to three toothbrushes per family.  I ran out of toothbrushes before we finished here. Some of the candy bags contained a child's toothbrush, but not all. I never before thought about toothbrushes being a luxury item, but when you have nothing, they are.

 Our sixth and last stop of the day took us up Brazil Hill which overlooks the airport. There was no contact person to call and alert in this community so Nidia walked up the road announcing our arrival. The houses were more spread out. We were struck by the realization that there were no toys, bikes, balls or playthings of any kind anywhere. These little girls in pink caught my eye. They were standing outside the community center where some children were practicing for a Christmas program.
We also noticed that a number of the children had distended bellies, probably full of worms, a common ailment here. By this last stop, we were down to the bottom of the toy box and really had very little to give them. We had two balls left for the boys to all share and basketballs at that; not a hoop to be seen. The stuffed animals were gone and we had only two dolls left to hand out. The others got the odd and ends: a pair of child's gardening gloves, bangle bracelets, a pair of shoes, a small puzzle. The candy bags had likewise run out, so these children only received 3 or 4 small pieces of candy. We were also out of toothbrushes. We were really, really wishing that we had more to give them, but they seemed happy with what they got.

There's not enough room here to show all the photos, so here's a link to Picasa Web Albums where you'll find more pictures.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Observations on Christmas

This is the least stressful Christmas I can recall. Being here on Roatan is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. We have no family coming; we celebrated an early Christmas with them in August. No gifts to buy, wrap, worry over. No crazy preparations to accommodate and feed a houseful of (beloved) houseguests for a week. None of the usual American hustle and bustle that can actually detract from the meaning of Christmas.

What are we doing then to celebrate here on the island? Helping with two food drives by donating money and time. We’ve helped pack food bags and baskets. Don has spent a long day (8-5) delivering food bags, candy and toys to the east side of the island with a group of wonderful volunteers (I was sick with a stomach ailment). We’ll both help deliver food today from Coxen Hole to Flowers Bay. I’ve baked 33 dozen cookies to add to the food baskets that will be passed out to needy families in our church on Christmas day.
                                                           Don and some of the kids
                                                           photo credit: Debi Cowan

I learned while packing the church baskets, that a Honduran tradition is to have sandwiches for Christmas dinner! A treat for them. So their baskets included bread, sandwich meat, mayonnaise and lettuce. 

We bought small gifts for Leidi and gave Concepcion money to help with their expenses of traveling to the mainland for the holidays. They were both so touched.

We’ll be having Christmas dinner with Bob and Debi, making our favorite foods to share with an island family.  This family doesn’t usually celebrate with a special Christmas meal; they can’t afford the luxury.

I must admit, it does seem very strange to not be with family this week. As Rachel said, she has never known a Christmas without us. And then there is little Simon. Six months old. We’re missing his first Christmas and that makes me sad. I wish we could be there with him, but circumstances just don’t allow that this year. I do miss all of our family and friends, but it does no good to dwell on it. Instead, I wish everyone a joyous, stress-free Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's In The Bag

                                             Making room for more 100 lb. food bags

 Santa's elves are busy working on the island this week. There are several food drives underway. Don and I are participating in two of them. Yesterday, we helped bag food for one of the largest food drives.

 Don drove Nidia, the main organizer of this event, to the market in Coxen Hole to pick up more huge sacks of rice, beans, flour, salt, boxes of tomato paste, lard, toilet paper, feminine products, candles, soap, coffee, spaghetti and more. Generous donations from many people provided the means to buy enough food to fill about 700 bags yesterday.
                              Four of the afternoon baggers: Don, Abraham, Nidia and Clarise.
Jeanette and Renee adding to the ever-growing pile of food bags. Renee took several days off from her job in Houston to come participate in the food drive.

Don went back this morning to help finish the bagging. Tomorrow the distribution begins about mid-island, gradually working towards the west end on Thursday and Friday. Nidia has mapped out a number of colonias that we will visit. In addition to the food, a very generous donation allowed for about 1000 little bags of candy and toys for the children. Should be a lot of fun. We're looking forward to bringing Christmas cheer to many families!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

More Questions and Answers

In answer to other questions (all good ones!) about how we are billed for services
and how we pay for them, here are some more interesting tidbits:

You may have heard me say that they don't use checks on the island.
Everything is done with cash or credit card (and that option is
relatively recent). And remember, there is no mail delivery.

Our electric bill (as well as those of all our neighbors up on this
hill) is delivered to Dennis' gate at the top of the hill. Yes. Simply
stuck in between the decorative bars of the gate. So far they haven't
blown away but are sometimes rather soggy. When Dennis finds them,
generally on the 9th of the month, he brings them around. We then take
the bill to the bank and pay it there (within 6 days or they shut off
the meter!).
We use small 25 lb. propane gas tanks (like on your gas grill) for
cooking and we take those to the propane company to have refilled
(although the gas truck does make the rounds along the beach, which is
nice if you don't have a car, motorcycle or bicycle to transport your
We buy water from Dennis' deep well and pay him monthly. We have a
septic tank rather than sewer.
We don't have a landline, just cell phones and we use prepaid phone
cards to recharge the minutes. We can buy those almost anywhere. We do
have internet options here, too. We use HughesNet satellite for ours
and find it very dependable. They have our credit card number and
charge it every month, although we suspend it when we leave the
island. The satellite connection also allows me to use my U.S.
Blackberry phone, set for wifi only, to call the U.S. for free, and
anyone in the U.S. can call me just as though I was still in the U.S.

And lastly, we have no mortgage to deal with, thanks be to God!

Simple, no?
I'm always happy to answer questions about life here.

What Is Your Address?

This is too good to not share.
My cousin just sent an email asking for our address. This was my reply:

Do you mean mailing address? Technically it's Sandy Bay, Roatan, Isla
de Bahia, Honduras. No street addresses here. No mail delivery either.
Mail apparently goes to the mainland, sits around until they feel like
sending it over here (which could be weeks) and once on the island, it
sits in the post office until the addressee, in a moment of divine
insight thinks "I might have mail" and goes to check. He will then
have to root through a pile of unsorted mail and pick out his. 
This may require multiple trips;
the post office does not keep regular hours either. No one can figure out
their "schedule"....doesn't seem to be one. If you own a business, you
can get a P.O. box, but they are limited and if they are out when you
apply, you will be given a plastic bag to hang on a nail in the post
office! I am not making this up!! Oh yeah, and if the roof leaks,
which it probably will, your bag may fill with water. This actually
happened to a friend of mine!!
So, if you're wanting to send us a Christmas card, electronic would be
the best bet. In the meantime, here's a great conversation piece for
your Christmas gathering!! Your welcome.
Merry Christmas!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Going Up and Down

This has been a week of much least 7 inches so far. We did finally get a break in the clouds and rain on Tuesday, which was beautiful, and a mixture of rain and sun yesterday.  It's all very lovely to watch from under our covered deck, although several days of high winds and hard blowing rain kept us indoors. I even had to put on some fuzzy socks and light sweatshirt. The winds brought very cool temperatures.

The humidity has been very high, as you might imagine, so nothing gets dry. Towels are a real challenge. They won't dry all the way inside or outside hanging on the clothesline. My pal Debi has had laundry hanging under her house for days, waiting for it to dry. I've been forced to use the clothes dryer more frequently this season, which I hate to do. We just got our new electric bill: we used less and got charged more than last month. Why? Because the rates jumped to 50 cents per kwh! Ten times what we paid in St. Louis!! Why are the rates so high? Partly because they have to import diesel fuel to run the generators and are dependent on fluctuating oil prices. (We paid $4.60/gal. for gas yesterday.)

Many people out of work on the island are also without power now. Our gardener had had his electric cut off when he couldn't pay the bill (which they do if you don't pay your bill within 6 days!) and was so grateful to get work and get the power restored. Reco charges nearly $25.00 to turn the meter back on; that's a lot of money for these families.  He'll have at least another week of work for us when it quits raining. The minimum wage here is $15.00 per day! Debi and I talked to one of the supervisors at the grocery store the other day. She is forced to work 12-13 hour days for the same pay. She brings home only $6000. lempiras a month...$270.00! She said she had no choice but to accept the hours; her husband has been out of work for months. No overtime or holiday pay here.

Other things things that are ridiculously priced: Christmas lights and ornaments. I have my one string of LED lights hanging out on the deck. Hard to believe I'm looking at $25.00 worth of lights. I wanted to get some ornaments to hang from the beams of the deck, but I'm too cheap to pay $12-$15. for a box of 4-8 ornaments! I so wish I had brought Christmas stuff with me.

I'm baking cookies to put in the food baskets that our church is making for 25 of the poorest families in our congregation. The prices of some cookie ingredients are also high: around $5. for a bag of chocolate chips, at least $6. for a small (6 oz.) bag of pecans...if you can even find them. I bought a package of walnuts for about $8. but at least I got 4 cups of walnuts. Peanut butter is also high. I did find a store brand (U.S.) for $2.50 this week;  Jif and Skippy are closer to $4.00. So, I'm keeping to simple recipes. I can't find any Craisins or Rice Krispies for two of my favorites. I paid $3.00 for a small container of colored sugar for my sugar cookies when I couldn't find any food coloring other than yellow and it was just as expensive.

I did shell out nearly $30.00 for a 16 lb. turkey this week for our Christmas dinner with Bob and Debi and an island family. We won't be having pecan pie or fruit cake this year. And no cranberry relish. No cranberries to be found anywhere other than cranberry jelly - sometimes. Still, our Christmas dinner will be wonderful and fun to share with an island family who wouldn't otherwise have any special Christmas dinner.

Friday, December 9, 2011

More Shopping Adventures

Sometimes, at the end of a crazy day, this is our reward.

We had a crazy day of running errands in French Harbor. Got as far as the airport when Don realized he didn’t have the bank book. Back-tracked. Banking was then pretty quick. The Claro store was not. Don bought a cell phone there (his first ever!) and tried to get his internet modem recharged. They were having some problem with their system and were unable to recharge it, so we left it and went on with our errands. Ace Hardware STILL does not have any kitchen faucets in stock. It has been at least a month since we ordered one. So glad we bought that cheap one for $30.00 which is working great. Bought one long strand of LED Christmas lights for the deck. $25.00! Which is why I only bought one.

Grocery shopped in Eldon’s. Check the prices of turkeys for Christmas dinner. Still $25.00 for a 12 lb. bird! Couldn’t find everything, of course. No cinnamon and no brown sugar! It was 12:30 and Don was getting cranky and went outside to sit and wait while I finished. I suggested lunch and we went to Herby’s. I tried the tortilla soup (good!) and the Greek salad, which wasn’t a true Greek salad but was still good. Don had the chicken fingers and fries – one of his favorites.

Back to Claro. Still could not activate the modem, but the phone was working. Asked to have the phone put in English and was told they couldn’t do that, only the message about his account balance could be put in English. Baloney! I have a Claro phone and my display is in English. Don’t think those 2 girls were all that competent. They said we would have to come back another day. So typical on Roatan. Forgot to ask Don’s phone number! I was able to call my phone with his phone and get the number.

Stopped at Plaza Mar. They also did not have any brown sugar or cinnamon. Asked Don to stop at the other Eldon’s, wait in the car and let me run in. George, our favorite taxi driver was there waiting on his fare. He talked to Don while I shopped. Success! Brown sugar and cinnamon, but no feta cheese or  orange juice. Can’t believe how hard it is to buy simple things here. George told us that he lost his Mahogany Bay (cruise ship pier) permit in an unprovoked attack by another driver at Mahogany Bay.  They both got kicked out and their permits taken. George was so upset. High season is finally here and now he will miss much business. He’s doing local fares and wanting to start a little tour business. I promised to speak to Bob and Debi about him, see if they could funnel some business his way. He's such a nice man. 

Back home, exhausted! Put the groceries away and sat for just a few minutes before it was time to take our new gardener Oscar and his 12 year old son, Oscarito,  back up to church. (Love them!!) We’ve been picking them up at 7:30 and dropping them back off there at 4:00. They still have a long walk up into the colonia.

Don said the next time I need to go shopping, please go alone!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ladies' Luncheon, Island Style

 If you know me, you know that I love ladies' luncheons. I attended one this week at the far western end of the island. Getting there proved to be a bit challenging. I was glad that the rain stopped just before I left the house. It resumed while in route and then stopped again once I reached West Bay. I drove through the parking lot of Infinity Bay and was about to head up the hill to Lighthouse Point when I encountered this sight. Yes, an actual flagger! That's a novelty here. I kept waiting for that big truck hauling that even bigger earth moving machine. I soon realized that he was stuck in the mud. You can see the guys digging him out. Other women began to pile up behind me, all waiting to get up the hill. Finally, he was free and began to move down the hill. He was wider than his lane. By a lot. I had to back up. Which meant the other women had to back up. They managed to pull off to the side enough, but I had to back up more. And more. A little more, until I was finally back in Infinity's Bay parking lot. That became our ice breaker at the luncheon.
 We had about 20 women attended this monthly luncheon. It's been fun getting to know more people.
This luncheon was at Smugglers at the new Meridian development. It's in a fantastically beautiful spot with good swimming and snorkeling right off the beach. Unfortunately, the weather was not that cooperative. I do think this would be a wonderful place to take "our" girls to play.
This picture has been labeled the Roatan Betty Whites. Not sure I'm crazy about that title (although Betty White is one amazing woman). Last month's featured photo was of all the West Bay blondes who are a bit younger than the group above; we had to even it out. We all had a great time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Monday Funday

 Yesterday we celebrated the 6th grade graduation of Hilda and Greicy. Don and I had decided to "gift" them with lunch and swimming when we couldn't think of another gift to take to their fiesta. I'm pretty sure they liked our gift best. They are part of the group of sponsored children that we and others support.  We invited Larry and Susan to join us. Susan tutors the girls and they are very comfortable around her.  I called Kent at Blue Bahia, told him what we wanted to do and asked if we could bring the girls to swim in his pool. He readily agreed. We had a great lunch and the girls put half of their lunches in boxes to take home (Kent gives large portions). Then they were ready to swim.
 Susan and I had picked up a couple of swimsuits from one of the second hand shops and she had a couple of others that had been donated by volunteers at the clinic. The girls took turns trying on the suits until they each found one that fit. They had such a good time in the water. We remembered that Hilda could swim and loved it, but were surprised to see Greicy take off swimming across the pool!
Hilda and Greicy are step-sisters and best friends. And very sweet girls.
 After awhile, they wanted to go out on the beach and sit in the sun and surf. I had to show them the outdoor shower where they could rinse off the sand before getting back in the pool. They liked that.
Miss Susan also got in the pool with them and managed to avoid most of the water fights. She did get a pretty good shower when a little four-year old girl dove into the pool right beside her and swam the length of the pool. We were all most impressed! The girls had a good time playing with the little girl and getting swimming tips from her. So funny.

When it was time to go, they wrapped the towels around them and with teeth chattering, climbed in the backseat of the car. Pretty soon they had their food boxes opened and were snacking on their leftovers. They had certainly burned a lot of calories in the pool and needed to refuel. We dropped them off at the road up to the colonia for their long climb up the hill to their house. Our car won't go up those terrible roads.

It was such a fun day. We'll have to print out some pictures to give them as a rememberance of a special time.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Love Letters

                                                                  Penny and Jeremy

Last night we got a bit of culture. Not the typical Honduran culture. The theatre kind of culture. We attended a dinner theatre performance of "Love Letters" starring our friend Jeremy Dyke (who is the pastor of the rChurch in West Bay) and Penny Leigh (owner of  Penelope's Island Emporium in West Bay and founder of Roatan Renegade Rescue). "Love Letters" is a two person play chronicling the lives of two long-time friends and the letters they exchanged. They simply read the letters they had received from one another from about third grade until middle-age when Melissa (Penny's character) dies but, boy! did they ever put feeling and expression into their readings. It was a bittersweet story very well acted by them both.

The dinner was fabulous as well. Kent Burnes of Blue Bahia hosted the event. He and his staff provided outstanding service and excellent food, as usual. Beef chursasco and garlic shrimp. Yum.

Penny told us that she and Jeremy will do another two person play after the holidays - a comedy. We can't wait to see it!!