January 9, 2012

The realities of living in Latin America necessitates the high white wall crowned with broken glass and barbed wire that surrounds our compound. And although Tegucigalpa used to be significantly safer than it is now (which is not safe at all), we kept mean German Shepherds that would patrol the courtyard by night just in case. These ferocious beasts–always named some saccharine variation of Prince, Princess, or Duchess (total misnomers if you ask me)–only answered to my grandfather and Meches, the ever-present gatekeeper/gardener/jack-of-all-trades.

Every night, I would stand at the window overlooking the garden, clutching the iron grates to watch as the dogs were let out. I remember the mixture of fascination and sheer terror that would course through my veins, particularly when the dogs would see me and come barking hungrily at the window cracks.

One morning, my little three or four-year-old self was wandering around the house as I often spent my summers. I am the oldest grandchild, so it was a few years before there was anyone else to boss around play with. Thus, I had to entertain myself, and I decided to take my adventures out into the garden.

I pushed open the screen door and about fifty feet to my right was an enormous canine. I saw a chain around its neck, and since I assumed the dog was tied to the wall, I thought I was free to exit the house safely. I dared to step out, but frightened nonetheless, I started running toward the garden located on the opposite side of the house, away from the beast.

Well. The dog wasn’t chained, and as we all know, running is the last thing one should do in front of a mean dog. Naturally, it started chasing me, hungry for blood. I hadn’t lived that long, but that was undoubtedly THE scariest moment of my life. Everyone else was inside the house, tucked away upstairs, and therefore impervious to my screams.

I turned the corner, desperately racing on my little legs, wondering where exactly I was going to go, and thank the sweet Lord, Meches was standing in the middle of the garden watering the plants. I took a champion leap worthy of an Olympic medal and pounced on him.

Then I looked down and saw that the bloodthirsty carnivore had completely demolished my plastic flip flops and was itching to get at my feet. I don’t remember anything else after that.

That is my most prominent memory of Meches.

He worked for our family from the days that my grandpa was young–yet another permanent fixture in my archive of Honduran memories to be sure. He always wore cowboy hats, had kind crinkly eyes, and called me Lorenita. And he saved my life, so I liked him a lot.

On this last trip back to Teguc, I was informed that he had retired and was dangerously ill. I was saddened to think I would likely never see him again.

The day after Christmas, I was sitting in the funeral home, reflecting on the many ways this era was ending in Honduras. I wondered how many stories would remain without opportunity to derive personal closure.

I saw movement in the doorway out of the corner of my eye, and felt myself gasp aloud before my brain even fully processed what my eyes were seeing. Slowly limping in was none other than Meches himself, looking aged but very much alive, cowboy hat and all.

Here was someone who essentially plucked me from the brink of death and clearly had himself pulled through a near-fatal experience, appearing at a gathering where we were simultaneously celebrating life and mourning death. Ultimately, I didn’t get to say all that much to him, but there was still something so profound about how full circle this scene felt.

And for that, I was grateful.


My First Christmas.

January 1, 2012

Me as a five-month-old super chub in Honduras with Chat Tai Tai.

Best. Grandma. Ever.

December 26, 2011

“Yun Yun [my Chinese name], what do you like to drink? What do you want to drink? Go take a look in our liquor cabinet and choose something.”

“It’s okay. I’m not really interested in drinking alone…”

“Aiya. You’re only going to be here for a few more days. Open whatever you want. I’ll drink with you.”

Ode to the Motherland

December 18, 2011

When I was growing up, we would fly out to Honduras the second the school year let out and stay a whole glorious summer until it was time again to start the next grade. Sometimes we would even spend Christmases here as well.

We live on an expansive, million-dollar compound complete with a dream house, three fully-equipped kitchens, a party hall with a bar, and the best backyard one couldn’t even conjure up in their wildest imagination. At one point in my young life, there was even a gigantic swimming pool, which was eventually paved over to make room for a quaint cafe replete with espresso machines and perfect people-watching windows.

The grounds were always lively with activity–maids snapping green beans and peeling carrots in the kitchen. Nicolasa rolling pastry dough for the sticky sweet corbatas. My aunt building mile-high wedding cakes. Meches nurturing juicy lime trees and brilliant flower beds. Customers packing the restaurant during lunch hour.

Grandkids reveled in all the niches and idiosyncrasies of such a large house. I remember digging out worm-burrowed copies of Archie comics from my mom’s old room and devouring them with fresh-squeezed passion fruit juice. We had birthday parties with the biggest, most beautiful pinatas I have still ever seen. We’d fight over the mango picking stick and gorge ourselves on the yellow-orange flesh until we literally got sick. We’d go to country clubs to swim and took roadtrips to the beach.

We would have boisterous dinner parties with expansive spreads of rich foods and mariachi troupes serenading guests, who ranged from family friends to important diplomatic functionaries. I remember decorating the salon with fancy tablecloths and silverware settings, and pulling countless chairs into the courtyard. Dancing, singing, laughter, and fiery sparklers would fill the night air to the brim.

Life was large and colorful.

These days, I stroll the stone hallways to the tune of far too much quiet. Children’s voices no longer echo off the walls. The extravagant Asian decor looks almost garish in the unoccupied sitting rooms. Expensive sets of china and mint coin collections stare silently out the glass display cases. The constant din of cooking doesn’t emanate from the kitchen, and delivery boy shouts don’t leap through the front gate. The cafe windows are boarded up. The fountain groans of dehydration. And even the mango trees, always bright with shades of emerald and vermillion, look a little forlorn.

Honduras has always been a country rife with endemic poverty and lack of tangible promise. Lack of infrastructure, lack of education, and the inability to rise above shocking natural disasters has not done the country any favors. An ever-declining political system and exponentially astronomical rates of violence further encourage an atmosphere that is not only allergic to stability and prosperity, but increasingly uninhabitable as well.

And so my family begins an exodus as monumental as its entrance (you cannot beat donkey riding, people)–what is sure to be a difficult process of closure. Roots that have taken deep hold will be hard to pull up.

I love being here. There really are few joys in life that compare to the happiness I extract from swinging in the balcony hammock knowing I am in the motherland. But now, even I must admit, there are twinges of sadness creeping out from the corners of unfrequented rooms and from between crumbling backyard tiles. It is not just the rearranging of wall paintings or the reupholstering of sofas or even the physical deterioration of my long-living great aunt that change the environment. It is clear that it is simply the end of an era.

So while I rejoice as my grandma stuffs me with delicious food I daily crave when I am away, I am also mourning the loss of good times that are so clearly in the past and a vivid future I have constructed here that I know will never come to be. It is a time of mixed emotions–of nostalgia for the merriment of the past, of deep gratitude for the delights that are still here, of sadness for the declining state of the nation, of regret that my children will never intimately know this part of their history, and of an undying love for the land that has given my family so much.