Friday, October 14, 2011

In a word...excessive

Having just returned from our first, last, and only trip back to the U.S. during our service, we realized that we could sum up the U.S. in one word, excessive. Excessive seems like it always has a negative connotation, but in this case, it was both positive and negative. Our life in Honduras is not exactly difficult, but in comparison to the U.S. it certainly is simple and austere in a sense, no frills, no pomp. It’s like the U.S. is an ornate Victorian house and Honduras is the split level home next door (you know, like in the game of LIFE). Both are livable, just one is more luxurious than the other, maybe somewhat unnecessarily so.

What hit us first, almost literally, as we stepped into airport after airport and airplane after airplane on our journey in, was the air conditioning. We brag that we are hardened to the cold in Honduras where in the winter we live in a 45 degree house with no heat or insulation, but even in jeans, jackets and fleeces, we were still freezing to death everywhere we went in the US. The A/C was on full blast, even in Detroit where the temperature outside was colder than the air conditioned interior. Even more shocking was that others didn’t even seem to notice. While we huddled together for warmth, people strolled about in cargo shorts, flip flops and tank tops, seemingly oblivious to the arctic temperatures. We can’t remember the last time something was really air conditioned in Honduras, but in the U.S. everything from the grocery store to the corner deli had A/C. It seemed, well, wasteful. What a huge expense to cool places that didn’t need cooling, just because you could.

The next thing that hit us was the transportation network. The Detroit metro area is not famous for public transit, so of course, someone picked us up at the airport in a luxuriously not-a-pickup car, then drove us to Nicki’s grandma’s house. The scale of the airport, the traffic lanes, the number of cars, was astonishing. Four lanes of highway in each direction, sometimes six, a median as big as four lanes of traffic! The biggest highway in Honduras is just NOW being expanded to two in each direction. Four lanes felt awkwardly large, six felt incomprehensible. What do people do with all this? Street lights were a wonder (every block!). There was just so much concrete and asphalt it was ridiculous. Of course, we have a more urban mindset and this was the suburbs, but it solidified our feeling that we might never be able to live somewhere with so much road and so little of anything else.

At Nicki’s Grandma’s house, another wonder was in store. Refrigerators. Not just refrigerators per se, but refrigerators taller and wider than the both of us, literally overflowing with every condiment known to man, leftovers for weeks, and enough extra food lying around to feed a Honduran family for possibly a month. Poor people in Honduras rarely have refrigerators and certainly do not have the double doored, ice-producing monstrosities we’ve always known in the U.S. Our fridge is only ever half full at best, as we fear a random power outage will destroy anything we buy. Why would anyone need to have so much food on hand? Why would you cook three times what you needed to eat? Just to stick some in the fridge? Mind-boggling. But at the same time refreshing to know that you could open up the fridge for lunch and know there were 10 delicious options awaiting you. For people like us that enjoy food so much, it was a welcome excess.

After being cooped up in cars, planes and houses for a few days, we knew we had to get out and get walking. It was like we were forgetting you could walk outside to go places. Nicki’s grandma lives in Dearborn, an inner ring suburb of Detroit where things in are far, but not that far. A trip to Nicki’s grandma’s favorite deli was only a 20 minute one-way walk, a common jaunt for us in Honduras. But what silently shocked us were the sidewalks. Luxuriously large at 3 feet wide, smooth and crack-less, and complete with handicap ramps, the sidewalks were fitted on every single street. Even the ridiculous eight lane boulevards had them! There was no worry of where the sidewalk might end, or tripping over a crumbling curb, or falling off into the muddy gutter, just pure sidewalk goodness. But guess what? NO ONE WAS USING THEM. We saw maybe two fellow walkers in our entire round trip (and they were walking dogs, another American oddity to us ‘HondureƱos’), and the passersby in cars seemed to stare at us as if to ask why we would dream of walking. All this beautiful space and no one to use it, tragically excessive considering the fact that we would die to have these same sidewalks in Honduras to avoid the slip and slide of mud that is our entire city street system. Could we get some of those imported down here if you’re not using them?

Not only sidewalks shocked us, but the whole landscape in general. Magnificent trees lined every street. Houses were fronted by polished lawns and gardens overflowing with mums and gnomes. Even medians, the wasted space that they are, were trimmed and manicured. We also arrived at the perfect time of year when the air gets crisp and the leaves are beginning to change and fall, the landscape a blend of bright oranges, reds and yellows that is unmistakably Michigan-y. Apples were in season and pumpkins lined every store front. Halloween decorations were in full force (we almost forgot it existed). It was beautiful to be sure, a level of urban design that Honduras has clearly not arrived at. But again, it was a little excessive, but nicely so this time. We realized how much you miss the climate you call home, not just the house and people.

Water and water appliances were another big deal. We more than once pitched the t.p. into the trash instead of the toilet, whoops! Who knew pipes could handle it!? We always seemed to be second guessing ourselves when it came to filling up a glass of water from the tap, brushing our teeth, or using a newly cleaned cooking instrument without drying it first. It just felt wrong. And what a wonder is the washing machine that can cut our laundry time from 2 days to less than 2 hours. In a world of amazing appliances, we put aside for 10 days all the fear, questioning, and caution we’ve come to know in our daily life in Honduras. And it felt…. Relaxing. Almost too good. Almost like we shouldn’t be indulging in these excessive modernities while we knew that so many people go without them, more so than we do even in Honduras.

We indulged in so many things while there, huge sandwiches from Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, a Michigan football game rout over Minnesota, apple cider, caramel apples, pumpkin donuts, grilling, kettle chips, public art, wine, sushi, dining out, good beer, a swanky rental car, 24-hour cable t.v., superstores (that would literally take up ¼ of our town in area), drive thru banking, hot water (in the sink!), and most importantly our friends and family. It was hard to pull ourselves away, but we did so knowing that our life waiting for us back in Honduras would be one of simplicity and ease that we have also come to love.

No comments:

Post a Comment