Friday, June 27, 2014

Let's Hear it for the Post Office...

I needed to get some errands done today and decided that I'd go to the post office, then to Claro and finally to the grocery store.  After class I left my motorcycle outside the gate so that I could quickly drop off  my laptop and stuff, and get my money.

Back on the moto, I headed for the post office.  Well, that was easier said than done.  Pretty much every block all around the parque and post office, and even by the police station, had various forms of construction going on.  It made for an interesting time of trying to get there.  Plus, everyone else was having the same trouble, so traffic was at a bit of a standstill.

Although I usually follow traffic laws, I was getting frustrated and decided to ride the motorcycle like most Hondurans -- ignoring laws, lanes, and construction.  I zoomed past the barricade near the parque and by the time I was next to the cathedral, the guys working on installing tumulos (traffic bumps) started yelling at me.  I apologized and told them I was just trying to get to the post office, but all the construction was giving me trouble.  They waved me on.

I *still* couldn't get close to the post office because of MORE construction.  As I was zigging and zagging and weaving around cars, I found myself getting close to the Claro store.  Change of plans: Claro first, THEN the post office.  I parked my motorcycle right outside of Claro and walked in, only to see all the employees just sitting around, talking.  Their system was down and they couldn't do anything for me.  Great!  But the girl I talked to told me that if I come back on Saturday, even though they are normally very busy all day, she will let me just come to the front of the line and talk to her.  Hmmmm, we'll see how that works out.

After Claro, I finally made it to the post office.  I opened up the box and was shocked by what I saw.  It was stuffed!  I've never seen so much mail in the mailbox. I was just there two weeks ago.  I started pulling  envelopes out and began to see what looked like Christmas cards from friends in the States.  "Cool!", I'm thinking as I pull more and more out of the box.  Hey, there's a postcard from a friend during his journey on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  Then I saw a very large envelope from a friend in Kansas, and a letter from a friend in NJ.  My NJ friend sent me an email this week, letting me know that the letter was on its way.

Finally, I pulled out a red envelope.  It was in Mom's handwriting.  Wow!  I started thinking that maybe Mom had written it out in November before she died and Dad put it in the mail.  I just stared at it, seeing how weak the handwriting was, knowing that in her last years it was difficult for Mom to write. "OK," I thought, "it took 8 months, but it got here."

I was still in a daze, staring at the envelope as I left the post office.  I put all the mail in the trunk of my motorcycle and started heading toward the grocery store, but was already thinking ahead to opening up the card once at home.  As I got near the mall, it was packed.   After all, it was Friday afternoon.

Too much traffic at the mall persuaded me to go to a different grocery store.  Once I got to Maxi Dispensa, I put my helmet in my trunk and took the card out. I decided not to wait 'til I was home.  I stood outside the store, trying to rip into the plastic bag that the card was in.  I'd seen that before here, so it didn't strike me as odd.  I finally opened up the card and the first thing I noticed was the $5 inside it.  Still nothing unusual.  As I was reading it, I saw that Mom had written that they had deposited money in my bank account as a Christmas present.  Now I was getting weirded out.  Mom died November 15, more than a month before Christmas.  And Dad bought me a present, not "put money in my account."

I looked at the date of the card: 12-9-12.  I looked at it again: 12-9-12. Finally I realized it was from 2012.  Really?  2012?  Then I remembered that that year (2012) Mom & Dad told me that they sent me a card and included $5 in it.  I never got it.  Well, it looks like after EIGHTEEN MONTHS my card had arrived!

After getting the few groceries I needed, I looked at all the cards I had picked up at the post office.  True enough, all of them were from Christmas 2012.  And as I looked at each one closer, it appears that they had been postmarked for early January 2013 in Honduras. Even the large manilla envelope from KS that contained a copy of my friend's book.  I don't know what happened.  Maybe all those envelopes were sitting somewhere in Tegucigalpa, or even in a forgotten corner of the post office here in Comayagua, but, whatever it was, they finally got to me.

So, for the rest of the afternoon, I've been in a bit of a daze, with jumbled emotions.  Through it all, though, I see it as some well-timed encouragement from God.

Kudos to the Honduran postal service for doing the right thing and actually delivering the mail -- despite the 18-month delay.  Plus, the letter from NJ got here in about 6 days!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Time to Renew My Driver's Licenses...

Renewing your driver’s license in Honduras is definitely an adventure.    My licenses were set to expire next week while we have a medical team here so I figured I’d better start the process today and hope that I could get it done this week.  

Yes, licenseS.  I have two driver’s licenses: one for cars and one for motorcycles.

The first thing you have to do is pay for your renewals at the bank and obtain a time to go to the transito.  So, I decided to be at Banco Atlantida when they opened at 10:00am this morning.  I got there a few minutes before 10:00 and the line was already 40 or 45 people deep, so I thought , “Forget it! I’ll come back this afternoon after class.”  And then I had an idea...

I went home and gathered up all the stuff I need for class at the university.  Then I headed for the medical clinic to get my physical exam.  Yes, you have to have a physical in order to renew your license.  I got to the clinic and told them I needed my physical and asked if they had time to get me in within the next hour and ten minutes.  I was told ‘yes’, so I paid my fee of 225 Lempiras (almost $11) and sat down.

After a few minutes, one of the nurses called my name and I went to into the room for weight, pulse and blood pressure.  The nurse looked at my chart and said, “Oh, you’ve lost weight.”  Yup.  I sure have!  And my blood pressure and pulse are pretty stinkin’ good, too, if I do say so!

Then back out to the waiting room.  After a bit more time, Dr. Espinal called my name.  Right away he said, “You look much better than the last time I saw you.”  Dr. Espinal was the doctor who attended me when I had Dengue fever in November.  I’m definitely much better than I was then.

My exam went well and the doctor wrote everything out and had the receptionist put it in an envelope.  Next, it was off to class for me.

I got back from the university, dropped off a few things, and then made sure I had money to pay at the bank.  On a whim, I decided to take the physical form just in case the transito could see me today.  The line at the bank was much more manageable and there were only about 12 people in line ahead of me.  Four windows were open, so I knew that wait wouldn’t be too long.  It only took about 10 minutes and I was at the window telling a young man that I needed to renew both licenses.  He took my current licenses, my carnet, and then asked for 250 Lempiras – 150 for my car license and 100 for the moto.

I asked if I could get an appointment for first thing tomorrow morning and the guy said, “Yes, but if you’d like to go right now, you can do that, too.”  Sounds good to me.  I took my receipts and all my cards (licenses and carnet) and started out the door.  

Within a few minutes I was at the transito and in line there.  I was about 6th in line, which was the best I’ve ever done there.  Another 10 minute wait or so, and I heard, “Next.”  My turn.  I went in and sat down at the correct window, proudly handing over all my paperwork to the police officer who has helped me two or three times before.  He looked through all of my paperwork and asked, “Where’s your psychological profile? And your vision test?”  I told him they should be included on my physical exam report, just like they were last year.  He looked again.  Nope.

So, back to the clinic to have the doctor change the report to include my mental and vision status.  The doctor was available, in between patients.  He came over and told me that they were no longer allowed to include that info on the medical evaluations.  Ugh!  Yes, he agreed that it was just another way to get more money.  Dr. Espinal told me that there was a clinic right across the way from the transito and I could get the psych eval and vision test there.  

I looked at my watch.  It was now pushing 3:00pm and I knew that they stopped issuing licenses at 4:00pm.  I had gotten so much done today that I was now bound and determined to see this thing through to the end.

I’m not sure, but I may have broken a few laws on my moto while trying to get back over to where the transito and psych offices are.  Kind of ironic since I was working on renewing my licenses, huh?

I pulled up in front of the transito office and a woman immediately came over and said, “Are you renewing your license?  Do you have everything you need?”  As it turned out, she works at the clinic and waits outside, drumming up business.  She escorted me to the office, where I explained that I have my physical exam, but not the psychological evaluation or vision test.  “No problem” I was told.  They could help me.  I got out my ID and more money… 200 Lempiras for the psych test and 75 Lemps for the vision test.

The vision test was first.  “Do you wear lenses?”  Yes, my eyes are corrected to 20/20.  “OK, cover your left eye and begin reading this chart.”  (In Spanish, of course.) I made sure I read the letters in the correct language.  After the third line, it dawned on me to tell the lady that my eyes are actually corrected in mono-vision, and she had me using my reading eye for the distance.  “No problem.”  She told me to switch eyes and I was able to read much further down the chart than they require.

Next, on to the psychological evaluation.  I had no idea what to expect.  Last year at the doctor’s office, the doctor just put that I was of sound psychological mind.  Well, this year I had to take a test.  An actual written test.  In Spanish.  Um, excuse me???

I told the man that I’d do the best that I could, but my Spanish isn’t all that great.  He told me that if I needed to bring a translator that would be fine.  I told him that I’d try to figure it out and we could go from there.  The test had 77 True or False questions.  77.  Not 75.  Not 80.  77.

Some of the questions were truly off the wall

  • After I end one sexual relationship, I feel the need to immediately enter another.
  • I feel that my spouse, significant other, etc. is always cheating on me.
  • When I enter a room, I immediately feel that everyone is talking about me.

And so on, and so forth...

I answered the questions the best that I could.  There were several that I wasn’t sure I had translated correctly, because I was unsure if I had translated a direct object or indirect object.  Oops.

The whole time, I was looking at my watch, hoping I could get these six degrees of hell over with.  Seriously, 77 questions.  In a language that is not my own.  I actually envisioned the guy looking at my test, laughing, and calling some guys in white coats.  OK, maybe that DOES make a statement about my psychological status, or self-esteem, or something…

Finally, I finished and brought the test out to the guy.  I had a seat and he pulled out a red pen.  A RED PEN.  Truly, what pit of hell was I in?  I started joking, asking why he was circling some answers and underlining others.  Both he and the woman who had guided me to the clinic said not to worry, that everything was okay.  Then the guy started writing on the ‘official’ paper that goes to the transito.  He looked up and said, “You’re fine.”  Gee, thanks.

I looked at my watch.  It was 3:35pm.  The woman told me not to worry, that there was no one waiting in line right now.

Taking my papers, I quickly made it across the street, and, true enough, there was no one waiting.  So, I opened the door to the ‘inner sanctum’ and asked, “May I pass?”  “Yes, please.  Come in and sit down.”  The police officer I was talking to earlier came back over and smiled, then said, “I see you made it back in time.”  I handed him my papers and told him I should have everything he needs.  He looked them over, took my driver’s licenses and carnet, and started tapping away at his computer.  “Susan, do you still live in Barrio Cabañas, at Enlaces?”  “Yes, I do.”  “OK.  Look at the camera.”  Click.  And again.  Click.

In less than 5 minutes, I was walking out with two warm, freshly printed driver’s licenses!

To celebrate, I stopped at Wendy’s and had a Frosty!!

My total expenditures to get my driver’s licenses:
Physcial exam:                  225 Lempiras
Car license:                       150 Lempiras
Moto license:                     100 Lempiras
Psychological eval:             200 Lempiras
Vision exam:                       75 Lempiras
Misc. copies:                         3 Lempiras
Frosty:                                 21 Lempiras
                                          774 Lempiras   ~or~  $37.41

Real value of going through the rigamarole of renewing my licenses:  Priceless!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Day the Cell Phones Died...

Two weeks.  It’s been two weeks since cell phones in Honduras went silent.  No calls in.  No calls out.  No internet access via cell phone.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zip. Zilch.

And it’s not just one cell phone company -- it’s all three of them.  (I often forget that Hondutel, the Ma Bell of Honduras, offers cell phone service.)

So what is causing all of the trouble? The government.  I rarely get political in my posts, but there’s no way to avoid it with this one.  It’s the government that is blocking cell phone service.  Or, more accurately, it’s the government that has mandated the block.

Back in December, 2013, the then-Congress and then-President signed a law that cell phone signals in the vicinity of the 24 prisons in the country would be blocked.  The move was deemed necessary to combat the contraband cell phones that are abundant in the prisons.  Even though they’re in prison, gang members and “crime bosses” have been able to run their organizations from behind bars.  Make a phone call, “push a button”. (Did you notice the gratuitous reference to The Godfather?)

The blockade began on Friday, February 7.  And that, my friends, is the day the cell phones died…

The thinking behind it was to cut off communication with the outside world.  The problem with that is that the majority of prisoners receive their daily food and water from family members or friends (just like at at public hospitals, but that’s a post for another day), which is, of course, how most of the cell phones make it inside.  So, if family and friends are providing the daily bread, there is STILL contact with the free world.

Another HUGE problem is that the blocked vicinity is a one-mile radius around each prison.  That ends up effectively being most of the cities where the prisons are located.

The net effect has been that almost no one can make or receive phone calls.  

Need the police?  Nope. 

Is your house burning down?  Oops.  So sorry.

Medical emergency?  You’re outta luck.

Want a pizza delivered?  Get off your butt and walk across the street to Pizza Hut.  (OK, for the record, I’ve never called Pizza Hut to deliver.  Yes, it really is just across the street from us.  I much prefer Little Caesar’s, anyway!)

The problem with all of this is that the government did not think about the consequences of their implementation.  Many businesses ONLY use a cell phone, so they are hurting.  The full economic impact has yet to be seen.

I actually have cell signal when I'm at the university each day.  Unfortunately, because everyone I would need to call is within the restricted zone, it really makes no difference.  

So, for two weeks we’ve been without cell phones (and still having to pay for our phone plans, I might add).  And, for those same two weeks I’ve been sounding like a broken record, telling anyone who would listen that the technology to block calls JUST at the prisons is relatively simple.  I’ve also been saying that it would ultimately be the cell phone companies themselves who push for the solution since they are losing money hand over fist.

Lo, and behold, an article in La Tribuna newspaper two days ago said that’s exactly what’s going to happen: the 3 cell phone companies are going to buy the needed equipment and put it in place at the 24 prisons.  THEN cell phone service for the rest of us will be restored.

When is all of this supposed to happen?  In 15 days. (Spanish, for two weeks.)  So, 15 days in Honduras is more likely at least a month.  Although, since the phone companies are losing so much money, there’s hope that they’ll get the equipment right away and dispatch those engineers to get it all up and running.

And, in other news, because of all of this, some of the more connected the “crime bosses” on the inside are getting their hands on satellite phones.  I guess when you’ve got to push a button, you’ve got to push a button.  And you find the technology…

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Have a Beer. Or Two...

Yesterday I walked over to Maxi Dispensa, which is a Wal Mart affiliate store.  It’s a grocery store, plus some limited clothing, electronics, hardware, etc.  Even the grocery offerings are limited.  I guess I’ve gotten spoiled by how much Del Corral has grown as a “super market” now.  But Maxi Dispensa is great to buy a few things until my next trip to Corral.

So, anyway, yesterday I walked over to Maxi Dispensa to pick up just a few things we needed in the house.  I put my empty backpack in the little lockers and grabbed a roller basket for my groceries.  The produce at Maxi can be hit or miss, but yesterday it seemed generally okay.  A watermelon, a cantaloupe, a few oranges, tomatoes, some green peppers, blah, blah, blah.

I made my way over to the checkout lines and found the open one. I was just getting in line when a gentleman got in line right behind me.  I looked and saw that he only had 4 cans in his hands so I asked him if that was all he had.  Then I offered to let him go in front of me.

As the guy passed in front of me, I saw that his 4 cans were actually 4 cans of beer.  Yes, in Honduras you can buy single cans of beer at the grocery stores.  So, the guy puts his beer on the conveyor and I saw that, not only was it beer, but it was three cans of Port Royal and one can of Barena.  It struck me as a bit odd that he had three cans of one brand and one can of another, but, to each their own.

I started putting my food on the conveyor, and then someone got in line behind me.  He had a pretty full roller basket, so there wasn’t even a thought to let him go first.  Then I saw it: the guy behind me reached down into his basket and pulled out a bottle of beer.  A Coors Light.  He then proceeded to open it and chug, all while waiting in line.  I don’t think it took him more than 5 or 6 seconds to drain that bottle.  Wow!  That’s one thirsty dude.

As he finished the beer, I was standing there wondering what he was going to do with the empty.  It wouldn’t have surprised me a bit if he had just put the empty bottle on the shelves among the candy bars.  He didn’t.  He put the bottle back in his basket.  Then he started putting his stuff on the conveyor, behind mine.  That’s when I saw that he had 2 six-packs of Coors Light.  Well, not exactly.  He had 10 bottles of Coors Light.  The second six-pack container only had 4 bottles in it – and one of those was empty.

The girl at the register started ringing up my things and I started bagging them.  Then I saw the guy behind me open up a 2nd beer and down it, almost as quickly as he had the first.  Was he trying to get a buzz on before he even walked out of the store?  He placed that empty bottle in the container, as well.

I was done paying and still bagging my things when the girl started to ring up “beer guy”.  The girl asked him how many beers (as if she couldn’t see them right in front of her) and he said, “Six.  Uh, no, eight.”  Then the girl asked, “Ten?”  “Yes.  Ten.”  I guess technically he was correct that he only had eight beers, since he had already consumed two of them.

I finished bagging my groceries while he was still checking out.  Then I dragged my heavy bags – remember the watermelon and cantaloupe, plus two bottles of Coke for Rosy – over to the counter behind the registers.  I retrieved my backpack and loaded it with the groceries, careful to place the tomatoes in such a way that they wouldn’t be crushed by the two large fruits.

By the time I got outside and started walking home, “beer guy” was already gone.  No doubt he was on his third beer…

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Inauguration of a President...

On Monday, Honduras held the inauguration of its newest president.  Here, the president can be elected to one 4-year term – no reelection to a second term.  And, just like in the US, pre-election campaigning can get pretty dicey, with accusations thrown about from all the parties.

And that, my friends, is about as political as this post is going to be!

I just want to share some of my thoughts and observances of the inauguration ceremony I watched on TV.

Suddenly the screen switched to static.  It was different than when the cable loses signal, and I’ve come to recognize the static as meaning that the government is blacking out all channels except official government channels.  I switched over to Channel 5 and found that it was broadcasting the inauguration of the new president: Juan Orlando Hernandez (often referred to as JOH).

When I switched channels, it was just in time to see the opening prayers.  The first was by a Catholic Monseñor.  His prayer was very regal and I understood every word of it.  The next prayer was by an evangelical pastor.  His prayer was much more emotionally charged.  I also understood all of that prayer.

Then they started the festivities by having a parade inside the national stadium in Tegucigalpa. First up, a school marching band. That definitely got my attention.  Their uniforms were crisp and their marching pretty good.  They had a great “street beat” going and soon started to play Sopa de Caracol.  Well, I actually love that song because the first time I heard it was on Costa a Costa 2013.  Check it out for yourself.  Try this one  or maybe this one.

As the band left the parade area they had another great street beat going.  For those who weren’t band geeks (we used a different name when I was in band, but that word is no longer allowed), a street beat is music just the percussion section plays, which keeps everyone marching in rhythm.  

After the band, we were treated to Los Indios Bonitos (good-looking Indians).  I’m translating it that way, because saying “pretty Indians” for the boys just doesn’t translate well.  But I digress.

Los Indios Bonitos were dressed, or, really, half-dressed, as traditional Lenca Indians.  The boys were dressed in loin cloths, holding bows and arrows, traditional face paint, and barefooted.  They all saluted the president-elect as they passed the reviewing stand.

Following Los Indios, a young girl, about 8 years old or so, dressed in traditional folklore garb presented the president-elect with a plaque and a short, impassioned speech.  But then, she grabbed everyone’s attention by beginning to sing to JOH.  And sing she did!  A capella and with more gusto and expression than singers much older than she.  At one point, JOH reached into his pocket, removed a hankie and wiped his eyes – both of them.  He was visibly touched, as was his wife.  The young girl reached out for JOH’s hand while she was singing to him.  He gave her his hand and used his other hand to reach for his hankie again.  It truly was a sight to behold.

When it was time for JOH to take the oath of office, he placed his hand on the Bible as he made his pledge.  Then  speeches, more speeches,  military band, and then a ‘victory lap’ around the stadium.  By this time, I was bored so I wasn’t paying much attention.  But the vehicle that JOH rode in for his victory lap caught my eye.  It was a greatly modified jeep with an open-air platform.  At first I was comparing it to the Popemobile, but with no bulletproof glass and such, it was really more like the swamp buggies that they use in FL during hunting season to retrieve downed birds.

One of the things that really struck me through the whole inauguration was how accessible the president was to the people, how much interaction he had with people.  That would have never flown in the United States.

And that, my friends, is the inauguration through the eyes of this gringa.