Monday, January 30, 2012
Life in the loud zone
Once upon a time - was it really just two weeks ago? - my partner and I were private people who lived a contained and quiet existence in a little house tucked into a quiet little corner of Esquimalt. We weren’t exactly trapped in our routines, but we certainly had plenty of them, and several centred around plenty of quiet hours to pursue our various quiet interests.
No more. On this particular night, which is not so different from any other night since we arrived in our Honduran homestay a week ago, I’m sitting on the couch under the glare of those nasty (but efficient) twisty light bulbs that are so common in Latin American countries, struggling to write a blog entry amid the many high-speed Spanish conversations going on all around me.
Where once we had a whole house to ourselves, now we have a spare bedroom in Esmeralda’s house. She tells us she lives alone - her husband works out of town and is here only intermittently - but in fact there’s an ever-changing cast of characters who are in and out of this place from morning to night.
Two of Esmeralda’s daughters live with their own families on either side, and for all intents and purposes this is their house, too. Right now, one of the daughters and her husband are sitting on the porch talking, the other daughter is in the kitchen, three small boys are running in and out while throwing balls at each other, and the neighbour just wandered in. Aaron, Esmeralda’s youngest grandson, is six months old and spends more time here than in his mother’s house, and has taken a particular shine to my partner.
There’s also a niece - I think she’s related to the husband of Esmeralda’s oldest daughters and two other girls of about 15, who appear to share the bedroom across the hall from us. Esmeralda’s youngest daughter lives about a block away and is a regular at the house as well, along with her husband and a sweet three-year-old girl named Nimsi.
Every night around 7 p.m., a young man arrives to eat at the kitchen counter. I wondered if he was a relative, or maybe a boyfriend of one of the teenage girls. But no, he rents a room in one of the houses and likes Esmeralda’s cooking. Minutes ago, another couple who I’ve never seen before passed through the house with a small child; earlier today, a different couple was sitting on the couch when we came back from a walk.
Like I said, we’ve got our own bedroom, and it’s got a locking door. But a small bedroom in an uninsulated house, with slat windows that are virtually always open, is not exactly what you’d call private. Like it or not, we wake up whenever the first member of this three-house complex wakes up, and many nights drift to sleep to the sounds of one woman or another scrubbing clothes or washing dishes just outside our window at the stone pila that’s a fixture of every Honduran household. And did I mention the many, many barking dogs that wander the streets at night? I can't even be angry at them, poor sick, skinny, pathetic things that they are.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m not complaining. We were due for a change, and damn it, we got one. I can’t think of a better way to get the hang of Honduran culture than to be thrown into it like startled babies into the deep end of the swimming pool.
The kids on the street are already calling out our names as we pass now. Our Spanish is improving by leaps and bounds, as you’d expect when fragments of it are being called out from one end of the house to the other on a more or less constant basis. By the time we move into our own place in three or four weeks, we’re going to have this thing down.
No, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. But what the heck.