Unsettled

March 10, 2010

I’m supposed to be happy.  We are back in NZ, have finally found and moved into a cute little house near the centre of town.  I love being back in my academic community, where I have my desk in a corner cubicle by the windows in a 3rd floor office with a view of trees and gardens.  I have almost all my research data in and am almost ready to write. I love that my daughter can now take dance classes and has settled right back into childcare like she never left (as her teacher said – only with more confidence!). I love that she has a school to go to – a good one, close, and one where friends will be. I love coffees and wine and plums and supermarkets and vege gardens and cheese and free buses.

But I’m not particularly happy.  I’m feeling very unsettled and I’m struggling to pinpoint why.

While I knew I would miss certain things about Honduras (the finca, the culture, the friends, the food) I didn’t really expect that I would feel so much like I left part of my heart there. I just feel like something is really missing.  I feel sad for family friends that I know are missing us.  I feel sad that my daughter and husband are missing their friends and the lifestyle they really enjoyed there.  We had become a part of a very special community and we just don’t know when we’ll be able to go back.

I had been looking forward to coming home and getting settled. But settling down is scary. As I unpack our boxes and set up a house I am not enjoying it as I thought I would be. This is permanent. We are not travelling again anytime soon. After a month of planes and hotels and staying in other people’s homes I had thought I had had enough of travelling but the idea of not travelling (by travelling I mean spending weeks or months or years in different places) for a long time, of not know when we might travel again is actually very sad. I had said that the next trip won’t be Honduras, I want to explore other parts of the globe, but it makes me feel even sadder not knowing when we might be back in Honduras.

I don’t really know what the future holds. I have said we will now stay put until the thesis is done. Thats a lot of work. It will be at the very minimum a year, possibly 18 months, hopefully not 2 years.  Then I need to find work. Where? What? Move? I don’t want to move. I’m not ready to stay. The future should be promising at this point but after all the disappointments and set backs of the last decade I’m not as optomistic as I used to be. Would it be easier to settle down if I knew we would have jobs and income? If I knew I could write this thesis in 6 months and get on with it? On with what?

So settling back into life in NZ feels unsettled. Cultural adjustment issues. Missing Honduras issues. Future worries. I should have but didn’t anticipate this. But the journey continues and I now must keep on. Keep smiling. Keep working. Maybe eventually my mind and my heart will catch up with my body and I’ll settle.

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Sunday Reader #4

March 7, 2010

A lot has happened since I last posted.  I packed up and left our sweet little house in the citrus orchard in Honduras and traveled to an interesting conference in wintery Savannah, flew back half-way around the world to crash at my parents home for a while, found a new house in Palmerston North and moved in, and started getting my head around my new (part time) position as a conference administrator.  What I haven’t done is get anything much done on my thesis.  Or post anything new on this blog.

Nor have I done much internet reading, and my reader has been a bit ignored.  However here are just a few things that managed to catch my eye in all the busy-ness.

In the midst of the pictures of damage in Chile, Collazo Projects has posted some photos of Chile before the Quake.  This struck a chord with me as I visited Chile (including the quake-sticken area around Concepción) many years ago and have been remembering beauty of the people and the place, and feeling somewhat melancholic about the disaster.

As Chile and Haiti face the long task of recovery, many have been asking Why are there so many natural disasters lately?.  Good intentions are Not Enough has yet another pithy post, this time reminding us of the human factors that make natural events into disasters.

As noted above, I am now trying to get  this PhD comic nicely sums up about where I am now!  I have been following the PhD comics since I began my PhD journey and there were actually several that made me smile this month.  This one also seems appropriate as I veer wildly between my daughter’s 4-year old life and academia:

Now that we are back in New Zealand and getting back into routine, hopefully both the thesis and the blog will get more attention.  Although, with the amount of attention the thesis will need I make no promises about the blog except that I will try… remembering of course that time enjoyed is not time wasted, and despite the scarcity of posts since starting the PhD, I do still enjoy blogging.

Someone once told me that for those is cross-cultural relationships the happiest place is somewhere in the air, between two places.  It’s true for me, especially now I have lived in Honduras for a while.  No place can be perfect again, something will always be missing no matter where we are.

All too often the news and talk about Honduras is negative.  The political situation is ugly.  The poverty is terrible.  Life is hard.  It’s true, and yet only half the story.  When we leave in 2 weeks time I will take with me more positive memories than negative.  There will be lots of things I won’t miss but more that I will.

I’ll miss the warm sunshine and being able to wear a t-shirt or light dress (almost) every day.  I’ll miss the orange trees, fresh mangoes and sweet pineapple.   I’ll miss baleadas, burras for breakfast and liquados for lunch.  I’ll miss saying “buenas” all the way up and down the street and the smiles of strangers.  I’ll miss the snatches of music everywhere (although maybe not the ear-destroying blasts of the malls and buses), fiestas and carneadas, the simplicity of daily life.

Most of all I’ll miss the friends we’ve made and the community we’ve found.  Cohesive, functioning and caring rural communities do exist in Honduras, and we were lucky enough to experience living in one.

But I’m thinking more and more about New Zealand.  About my family there and the niece I have barely met.  My academic community that I have missed so much.  Having our own “stuff” back and a more permanent home to keep it in.  Good wine, cheese and fresh, tasty bread.  I’m ready to go home.

But I’m not ready to leave.

Where should we live?  Why do we need to choose?

As I finish up my work here in Honduras and look towards our return to New Zealand next month, I have been thinking more and more about the logistics of finding a new home and getting settled again. While it is tempting to rush in and enjoy all the conveniences I have missed over the past 7 months (a big fridge! a real stove! my little espresso machine!) being in Honduras has taught me that it is actually not difficult to live with few pocessions and basic bathroom and cooking facilities (although I’m completely over sharing them with ants, spiders, scorpions and centepedes!).  The post “Need” and the Standard of Living on the Sociological Images blog (and the original slide show Planet Slum) also help to remind me that what I ‘need’ is not always a need. What I do need, as I start the process of setting up a new home, is to think more carefully about the resources I am using.  What do we really, actually need, what are the luxuries I really genuinely love and which make our lives more pleasant and enjoyable, and what are the ‘needs’ that we can do without.

Good-bye Old Year

January 1, 2010

Happy New Year! Well, maybe not so happy for this guy. In the last few days of December Hondurans make life-sized stuffed dolls – the “Año Viejo” (old year), and stuff them with rags, straw and whatever fireworks can be they can obtain and/or fit in. They displayed outside homes until mid-night on the 31st when they are burned in a symbolic burning away of all that was bad of the old year. So this old man is destined to burn tonight.

This particular Año Viejo has “soy golpista” (I am a coup supporter) written on his shirt. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what the maker of this Año Viejo would like to burn away this new years eve.  The elections might be over and the golpistas secure in their plans, but as this old man shows, the resistance has not disappeared.  I’m hoping the new year brings more peaceful, clever and courageous actions to push back the golpistas and bring real change to Honduras.

Christmas in Honduras

December 30, 2009

My first Honduran Christmas, 5 years ago was a small family party.  Suffering from pregnancy related morning sickness, and very homesick I didn’t really enjoy it.  This year was different.  Noisy, sometimes chaotic, and a lot of fun, it was completely different to any Christmas I have ever had. Here’s some photos and thoughts on our Honduran Christmas.

Christmas starts here at the end of October when Christmas trees and decorations begin appearing in public spaces.  The malls in particular seem to be trying to outdo each other with the size and decoration of their trees – these two toy-covered trees are at two different malls in Tegucigalpa.

Decorations in Honduras are not all about the trees however, and naticity scenes (nacimientos) are very traditional.  This one was also at a mall.

While I am used to nativity scenes of the stable, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and the animals et al, Honduran nacimientos are often large and show multiple scenes.  The mall nacimiento showed village and town scenes, and a series of scenes related to the current political events.  This one shows President Zelaya being removed from his bed by the military, with the plane waiting to take him to Costa Rica.  Others showed Micheletti accepting the presidency, the elections, and the resistencia.  The whole series was fascinating and I’ve been meaning to give it a post of it’s own.  Maybe I should.

Being here only temporarily we didn’t want to invest a lot in a tree and decorations so we had fun improvising.  Our tree was a small live pine from the vivero (plant nursery) next door, decorated with small ribbon bows, Ferero Rocher balls, a set of cheap lights and a $1 corn husk angel. Other decorations included paper angels and snowflakes made by myself and my daughter, and a beautiful poinsettia, also from the vivero next door.

Of course being temporary here didn’t mean we weren’t able to enjoy some other Christmas traditions like baking and eating.  This is the non-ginger gingerbread house my daughter and I made (I couldn’t find ginger in Tegucigalpa so we made the gingerbread from spice cookie dough – it was very yummy and might well become a permanent substitute in our house!).

The nacimiento above is in the home of a relative of my husbands’. On Christmas Eve we spent most of the afternoon and part of the evening visiting friends and relatives.  This is actually a very traditional way to spent Christmas Eve, going from house to house visiting (and eating nacatamales!).  We started early, travelling an hour to visit with my husbands family before returning to home to visit friends here.

Another family nacimiento complete with blown egg people (named after relatives!) and other hand-made decorations.

After the visiting we returned home and joined our neighbours for the rest of the evening.  Hondurans celebrate on Christmas Eve and celebrate we did.  I don’t have many photos of this, but it included plenty of food, alcohol, dancing and fireworks!  The food was an interesting mix.  The family is mixed Honduran -American and so there was turkey with cranberries and mashed potato alongside a Honduran ‘carneada’ (bbq) with plenty of meat and tortillas.

We almost missed the midnight celebration (hugs and kisses, fireworks and present exchange) as my daughter finally crashed just before midnight despite the noise.  The party was still in full swing when I went to bed at 3am.

Despite the late night our lovely 4 year old was up at 6:45 and looking for her presents from Santa.  We managed to squeeze another half hour or so in bed while she emptied her stocking and watched a DVD, but eventually we had to get up.  While Hondurans open presents on Christmas Eve, we kept most of our family presents and a couple of “Santa” ones to be opened on Christmas morning as is the NZ tradition.  The rest of the day was very quiet.  Very very quiet, with most part-goers only crawling out into the sunshine sometime around mid-day.  We didn’t do a big Christmas lunch, but I had managed to find some good ham and enjoyed that for lunch with lots of fresh vegetables, in a semi-traditional kiwi way.  My daughter enjoyed hers with tortillas, and my Honduran husband enjoyed more nacatamales.

While I still find it hard to be away at Christmas, and miss my family in NZ (and Christmas mince pies and pavlova with real cream) this was a good Christmas and a lot of fun. I feel blessed to be able to share in the traditions of another culture and we will certainly be keeping both Honduran and Kiwi traditions each Christmas as much as we can. Now to get lots of rest and prepare myself for a real Honduran New Years…

By now much of the world will be aware that there is chaos in Honduras right now. Exiled President Manuel Zelaya has found his way back to Tegucigalpa and is holed up at the Brazilian Embassy.  The interim / defacto / golpista government has responded with what seems to be to be alarming overkill, breaking up protests, shutting airports and borders and putting the entire country under a 24 hour curfew.  While this is supposedly for the protection of the citizens, those same citizens are suffering as people can’t work and can’t get food. Businesses are suffering.

News reports are conflicting.  TV and radio stations have been intermittently shut down leaving those without internet access to get news (propganda?) from those supportive of the current government. Depending on the news source, there have either been no deaths or hundreds; the violence is the result of the raging protesters, or the provocation of the police and army; the vandalism is the work of the pro-Mel groups or a set-up by the golpistas.  Who knows.  I suspect the truth is in the middle somewhere but it is very hard to get an honest report here.  What I do know is that the whole situation is causing significant suffering for the ordinary people here, and the longer the power-hungry leaders in Tegucigalpa continue to refuse to negotiate properly, the more they will suffer and that breaks my heart.

Personally, the situation is causing some difficulties.  I am supposed to be at the conference on Honduras starting tomorrow, and I will, but it has been shortened and will be small as conferees may not be able to get here.  Luckily we came early, before the return of Zelaya, as my sister was visiting and we wanted to chow her Copan.  However it wasn’t so lucky for her as she arrived in San Pedro Sula to catch her flight home just as all airports were closed.  She is still in SPS, holed up in a guesthouse and waiting for the first plane out.

Here in Copan the streets are quiet, but the curfew has not been enforced so we are able to get out and about (and I am able to do my work and blogging from a sun-drenched rooftop cafe!).  I am enjoying the relaxed pace here, and the personal and cheerful service from businesses who are so grateful for my custom, but I would far rather things returned to normal as quickly as possible.  Honduras, and Hondurans, can’t afford this shut-down.

Mille feuille

August 13, 2009

My academic supervisor just suggested my latest theoretical analogy reminded her of mille feuille. Apart from the fact that it makes me really want to eat something sweet and custardy (and I’m highly unlikely to find anything like that around here), I think the idea of envisaging theoretical ideas as food is great.  It means I can combine two of my favourite things – theorising and eating.

Actually that is probably something I do really well already.  My recent research trip to the North Coast and Roatan was characterised both by very interesting interviews and discussions, and by great food – fresh fried fish and tajadas, chorizo, many many baleadas and yummy tropical fruit.  Some of my best research conversations have happened over food, both in restaurants and homes. I’m not sure what it is about sharing food that encourages good discussions (I wonder if anyone has research that yet – now that would be fun research to do!), but it does seem to work that way.   It doesn’t take much of a step from there to start making theory from the mix of food and ideas.

The trip wasn’t all work and eating.  I managed to have a lovely mini-holiday on the beach in Roatan with my family.  While there we were able to stay a little more up-market than we normally would, the political crisis and travel advisories have succeeded in significantly reducing the number of tourists arriving, and hotel prices have been slashed as a result.  Not good for business (and I do feel for the hoteliers) but nice for us.  We swam, watched dolphin shows and lay in the hammock and just relaxed.

Now I am back at my desk with a pile of notes and a voice recorder full of interesting interviews.  But this time I’m not the only one who was at ‘school’ – my little big girl is now a big school girl.  Well, almost, she’s a big pre-k (preschool) girl, and today was her first day.  She loved it.

All round, life is going well.  The research is progressing.  I am enjoying living here, and my family is happy.  All I need now is a slice of mille feuille and all will be perfect.

We made it to La Ceiba!

July 27, 2009

This is a long planned research trip which had been delayed due to the ongoing political crisis.  Given that things had been more or less normal and I needed to get on and get some research work done, we decided earlier this week to just go.  Of course, as soon as I had made the plans, booked accomodation and scheduled interview appointments we were warned that the unions and pro-Zalaya faction were organising strikes and roadblocks for later in the week. After a very late night on Tuesday revewing our plans we finally decided to go Wednesday and attempt to get all the way to La Ceiba before the strikes started on Thursday, a decision helped by a changed interview date in the SPS area (we had planned to stop there for a night or two en route).

It proved to be a good decision – we made it and did avoid some disruption on Thursday – but also a bad one, it was a looong trip with a small child and very tiring – it took us 9 hours of driving, 100km of road works, one forced detour through the countryside, 2 broken bridges, 2.5 meal breaks and 5 toilet stops before we finally made it to La Ceiba. But it was good to get the North Coast, and get started on the business of this trip, gathering data for my research.

Of course it’s not all work.  Today we took a drive to Sambo Creek, where we ate seafood, and my daughter was able to have her first splash in the Caribbean.  She as convinced it would be cold (and that there might be sharks!) but it didn’t take her long to realise it was not a kiwi beach… it was nice and warm and only a light shade of brown (lots of rain here yesterday). In the next few days we’ll be sailing over that water to Roatan, where she and her Dad can spend all the time they want in clear blue water, while I keep working (ok, yes I’m sure I’ll have a few swims myself!).

We are of course watching the political situation carefully.  At the moment all the action is near the Nicaraguan border at Las Manos, ironically not too far from our little casa on the hillside but far away from where we are now.  I think we made the right decision after all.

Life goes on

July 3, 2009

My Mum is worried.  Back home in New Zealand reports of the coup in Honduras are filtering through, along with images of protests and clashes, and warnings against unnecessary travel to Honduras.  It’s a surreal experience being here, aware of the events taking place not far from where we live, yet carrying on with life as usual.

Politically the country is still in a stand-off.   The international community yesterday gave the coup leaders 72 hours to reinstate Zelaya or face sanctions.  Zelaya initially stated he would return today but now seems to be waiting for the 72 hours to pass before making a move.  The interim government has declared Zelaya will not be welcome here and, amongst those who have a voice anyway, it is clear much of the population does not want him back either, although both pro and anti- Zelaya marches and protests continue.  So most of us wait.  No-one really really knows how this will play out.

Of course this tension and political unease in the background has an impact on daily life.  We don’t have a TV but listen to the radio, and read newspapers, blogs and twitterers online.  We have prolonged discussions about the situation, and are constantly reassessing our plans taking into account the political events each day.  But the reality is that life goes on.  I go to university.  My husbandand daughter spend thier days playing on the porch, going for walks to collect fruit and swimming in the pool.  The people around us also carry on as normal, the workmen next door rebuilding another little casita, the staff and students at the university all still working.  The pulpurias (small dairy-like shops) are open, as is the local supermarkets and petrol station.

All appeared normal in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday when we finally took a much needed trip to the supermarket and to have a look at a few cars (we are reliant on others for transport at the moment but are looking for a car of our own). People were out and about on the streets as usual, and the malls and supermarkets are all open. The only evidence of the political strife was a handful of soldiers on the road into town, and a small, peaceful pro-Zelaya march (about 300-400 people I would guess) passing by the mall.

Our biggest worry so far is the potential effect of trade sanctions.  Already there are rumours of prices rises in some places.  We are well stocked for rice and beans, and have a whole fruit orchard to enjoy but it is a concern when we really still are here on a student budget.  It is even more of a worry for the 60% or so of the population who are poor.  Petrol shortages are also likely as Chavez cuts the flow of Venezuelan oil to Honduras, and our neighbour has already experienced significant difficulty filling his car in Tegus. earlier this week.  While I’m not sure if it is linked with the political crisis, I have also had difficult accessing my Visa and NZ bank accounts from the ATM we usually use, the message stating that my istitution was not connected to the bank at this time. I’m hoping that is just a normal ‘travel in Honduras’ related issue otherwise we’ll be very short of cash for a while – although the Visa works fine for normal in store payments so we won’t starve.

The other impact this crisis is having is on my planning.  I should be well into making plans and appointments for my research trip to the North Coast later this month, but have put it on hold until things are a little clearer.  At the moment things are safe, and people are travelling normally, but the threat of the escalation of violence exists and if so, we will be happier and safer on our mountainside than on the road.  It isn’t a big deal except that it delays the data collection, but I do have my supervisors permission to stay home and make chocolate cake should I be unable to travel!

So, life goes on.  We wait and see.  We eat, sleep, work, swim… and hope and pray this passes quickly and peacefully.