Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Everything strange is a little more familiar

A street market at its most basic - one guy and a few vegetables
Perhaps it's the human condition to seek routine. I've spent much of my life on the run from routines I felt stuck in, yet at the same time I settle quickly and comfortably into new ones.
We've been in Copan for 10 weeks now, not nearly long enough to know much about this complex country. But certain things are at least a little familiar now, and I'm welcoming the small routines that allow the days to pass in slightly more predictable ways rather than as relentless blasts of new and baffling developments.
I have two regular lunch-time "bird walks" now, for instance, and know that one leads to the trio of magnificent crested jays near the Hacienda San Lucas while the other takes me to the arid fields and grosbeaks around the water reservoir for La Laguna. When a shadow passes over me as I walk, I know that it's almost certainly a vulture - possibly a turkey vulture, more likely a black.
Having been here for a change in season, I know that the mosquitoes that plagued me when we first arrived are blessedly scarce now that the days are hotter, and that the lovely din of cicadas in the trees right now is the annual harbinger of Semana Santa. I know which shoes to wear when it pours rain and the cobblestones are as slippery as black ice, and which "summer" clothes from Canada to pack away for later in the season because they're much too hot for a March day in Honduras.
I know which brand of platano chips I prefer, and that local watermelons are best eaten in a single sitting. I know which chicken stand has the best fried chicken and which stores have the cheapest, coldest beer.
We know where to get a good plate of "tipico" Honduran fare, and we even know what "tipico" fare is. We know not to eat the cabbage, something that virtually every Honduran has cautioned us about as a sure ticket to stomach upset (all those tight leaves trap bacteria). We know that tacos are served crispy and rolled in Honduras, and that empanadas and pupusas are the same thing.
But we also know where to get the best pizza, the best hamburger, and even a half-decent piece of German chocolate cake if we're desperate for  a good bakery treat - something which this country is lamentably short of. We know to stock up on yogurt when it shows up in the grocery store, because you just never know when the next delivery will be.
I sense that we're still unusual sights on our street, my gringo partner and I, but our neighbours now greet us with familiarity, and the armed security guards outside the bank know we're there for the ATM and not to cash travellers' cheques. When I go to the hardware store, the woman behind the counter tells other customers that I play the accordion, because she lives across the street and has heard me.
I know how to turn the shower tap just so to make the water hotter or cooler, that having been a mystery to me initially when faced with a single tap for controlling the tiny little hot-water heater built directly into the shower head. (I try not to dwell on the fact that directly above my head, water and electricity are making contact with each other.)
I know that the water is cooler on days when the tank on the roof is full and the pressure is higher, and almost too hot to bear on days when the city water isn't running. I know to scrub my lower legs extra-hard when showering to remove the significant layer of dust that builds up after a day of walking on dirt roads, and that it's possible to wash a greasy pan in cold water if you use the strange paste detergent that they sell down here.
I've got a preferred route for getting to work, one that takes me past cows and farm fields instead of through the centre of town. I no longer feel any trace of alarm when passing by men carrying gigantic machetes - which is to say, almost every man I pass on my walk to and from work. I have a pharmacy I like and a store where I buy my weekly cellphone minutes, and I can find my way with my eyes closed to the little place that sells frozen bananas dipped in chocolate.
I will soon have first-hand knowledge of Semana Santa in a Latin American country, an experience that up until now I've always taken care to avoid. Who knows, maybe I'll discover that it's fun to have thousands of Hondurans flock to town for a crazy, chaotic week-long party, and at the very least I think I'll enjoy the renderings of Jesus that will be created in the streets using coloured sawdust.
In another couple of months, I'll know what a "rainy season" feels like, and whether the brand-new rain coat I brought from Canada is useful or woefully inadequate. I might just have a new routine of indulging in a moto-taxi ride to work on days when it's pouring, or perhaps I'll just have new knowledge of the right times of day to be walking to avoid short but intense periods of rain.
And one day, it could be that these little routines I'm enjoying might be so familiar that they start to feel like ruts, and I'll be bridling at having to eat fresh vegetables every night for dinner and see the same old tropical birds in the trees every day. But that's one day.

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