Thursday, August 20, 2015

I got into Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital city, three hours late, not knowing if I would have a ride to where I was staying forty minutes outside the city. Two friends were waiting for me at the airport and so I was saved from taking public transit with my suitcase, all of my belongings, my passport. I got into the car and said a few words to my friends but as we started moving, windows open, the noise of the city was too loud to maintain conversation. I looked out the window instead, held my bangs back as my hair blew with the wind, and stared at familiar sights, taking it all in a year-and-a-half later.

The exhaust of the other cars caked my face as we rode through Tegucigalpa. Plastic was burning among the dust at the road's edge, smoke rose up from garbage bins. I looked at the men who called the side of the road their home, the women who sold watermelons, pineapples, unripe mangoes. We soon moved passed the city into smaller villages, the remote mountains that sat just minutes away from Tegucigalpa. It's my second home, Honduras. A place I love hesitantly. Only as one can when it hasn't hurt you yet.

Every time I go to Tegucigalpa, I feel like I’m searching for an answer to a question I’ve had since I first got off the plane years ago. Every person I meet, ever encounter I have – whether its a 19-year-old girl who takes me shopping at the city mall or the 65-year-old gringo who is living here on his social security – is an investigation. Amidst all the chaos, am I naïve to think there’s beauty here too? 

I’ve heard too many stories to know that the media reports are true. But I keep asking questions because I’m curious, a fledgling journalist, also an outsider who can’t wrap my head around organized violence. I keep collecting testimonies from taxi drivers, the people next to me on the bus, the men I go on dates with. 

During the week, Wilmer takes me to Café Paradiso, a café with an outdoor garden in the center of the city. He’s 30-years-old and learned English by listening to jazz, blues, classic rock. We talk about the state of affairs in Honduras because it’s as common a conversation as talking about the weather. His band plays at the protests that occur in Tegucigalpa every Friday. He’s been protesting for years, even during the coup d'etat of 2009. I hear myself saying, It’s hard to know what you can do when the problems are so big. But here we are, he reassures me, luchando. Fighting.

After a plato típico, a walk through a museum, and fresh juice in the shade, I ask him if he has problems living in the city, having grown up here. No, no tengo problemas, he says. He’s found a job. Though not very lucrative, he can pocket the money instead of having to pay impuestos de guerra, or taxes to the neighborhood gangs. It’s more who you hang out with here, he says. Por eso, no tengo problemas. It feels nice to hear a Honduran express a thought I’ve felt guilty for feeling, traveling the country and falling in love bit by bit. 

Perhaps it's the afternoon soccer games in the pueblo or the popsicles at the neighborhood pulperia, the warm ocean with children swimming in their clothes dodging the jellyfish, the school buses that charge through the mountains, the herds of cows that cross my path on my way to work. Perhaps it's the novelty of it all. Perhaps it's the community that greets me with a hug and a kiss.

During my week, I pass the days with my old friends and hundreds of children on a 2000-acre ranch. Every night, I watch the sun set, the sky become lavender, the eucalyptus trees a charcoal gray. At the end of the week, I ride home, not sure why I am returning. Brandon Stanton said it all of so well this week. But so did a simple line of graffiti I saw spray-painted on the side of the road while riding to the airport. Que tus suenos sean mas grande que tus miedos, it read. 

May your dreams be bigger than your fears. Slightly mawkish, but seems worth fighting for.

If you ever find yourself in Tegucigalpa


Cien Anos
Sabor Cubano

El Picacho - A park with a large statue of Jesus, a view of the city, a zoo and gardens.
La Tigra - My favorite place in Honduras. There's an inn run by a German couple who are very hospitable, also incredible cooks.
Santa Lucia - A mountain town outside the city with a tea shop that's model after los teterias in Granada, Spain. The shop sits underneath the trees, on top of the city, next to a charming one-room church.

Pictured above: photos from the archives when I lived in Honduras a few years ago; for more updated photos, feel free to flip through my instagram @sallywafflez

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I turned 25 this week.

It sounds old to me but if I think about it, the reality of my life is not so far from what I envisioned as a girl lusting over the thought of one day being in my mid-twenties. I don't feel strong and independent but I suppose I am. The reality of my life is more Broad City than what I think I had in my head years ago but that's most likely a good thing. 

More than anything, I've found that right now I'm much happier working than I was studying. I'm learning the names of my state legislators, how their budget cuts affect families, the difference between SIJS and U visas, how to dance a decent salsa. I also think that all the schooling I'll ever need comes in the mail every week inside the pages of the New Yorker.

I'll update soon with Mexico and Honduras posts but for now, I need a Sunday night spent making a pizza bagel and doing nothing but 
sitting on the couch watching the new Tig Notaro documentary on Netflix.

For more interesting content than I can muster, HONY's Pakistan tour is beyond incredible. The landscapes, the brutal honesty, the humor, the multitude/diversity of stories encapsulates everything I love about well-done media and art. Also, I just came back from vacation but cannot stop scrolling through the Airbnb website. If summer were longer, I'd escape here for a weekend. I suppose I can always escape in the fall or winter but there's something lovely about the summer. All of this Vitamin D has just got me feeling some type of way.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Hope everyone had a wonderful Fourth of July!

While everyone else went off to their lakehouses, I stayed at home and slowly made my way through a list of errands while listening to this album on repeat. It was glorious. I also headed to Lake Michigan for fireworks a night early only to find Chicago discontinued Third of July fireworks years ago because of budgetary issues. Whoops. Lucky for me, wine by the lake with an old friend is still magical on its own. I might be pretty quiet on this space for a little bit because soon (!) I'm off to Mexico and Honduras. HASTA ENTONCES.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

I did not grow up going out to eat. I grew up in a family of four kids, with a stay at home mother and a dad who turned down certain jobs so he could spend his weekends at home with us. We were a road tripping and motel-staying family, a pack-your-lunch-when-you-head-to-Great-America kind of crew. My parents thought they wouldn’t be able to swing a vacation one summer because expenses were too tight but then they decided against it, driving us all to the Rockies and managing to never surpass their $100 a day budget (that was total to feed, shelter, entertain six humans). When we were home, we always, every night, had dinner at the kitchen table.

So to me, the eating out lifestyle seems a bit excessive. I'll enjoy a meal out because food and company is enjoyable but mostly, the simpleton in me would rather be at home, cooking a meal. The places that do get me blissed-out excited aren’t necessarily the trendiest (although I admit, I love a trip to Lula). The places I frequent are the places that cook what I could never make. Pupusas with curtido, cabbage slaw and vinegar. Korean stews with kimchi. Veggie biryani and a big side of naan. There’s a place two blocks away from my house that I swear por la virgin sells the best tortas in the city, and I'm the happiest little drunkard whenever the tamale man comes by a bar.

Usually I don't venture outside of my neighborhood too much but a couple work events have taken me to the outskirts of the city lately. I went through Archer Heights and into Englewood the other week, and go up to Bronzeville every week to volunteer, with my eyes scanning the streets of Chicago that are still unknown to me. After driving up North one day, I stopped on Devon St. after work, heading to Ghareeb Nawaz, an Indian restaurant that I haven’t been to since I moved to Chicago six years ago. A man was eating his Indian food alone at my table, and after introducing himself, he asked out of the blue, “Hablas espanol?” I looked at him, blonde-haired and green-eyed, and laughed, saying, "Yes, I do speak Spanish." He was Colombian, a teacher. We talked about Honduras, A Hundred Years of Solitude, the West side of Chicago all while we ate our biryani on a metal plate. 

Chicago is very flat, concrete, and big but what it lacks in terrain, it makes up for in cultural richness. I could watch Anthony Bourdain for days - and I did once when I had mono - but I forget that sometimes out my door is the best Korean, Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese dishes I’ll have without stepping onto a plane first (which reminds me of Bourdain's Bronx episode). The beauty in the ethnically diverse make up of my city just seems like an important thing to acknowledge right now, especially since so many current events make you realize that others still have trouble seeing the privilege of it all.

Pictured above: Pupuseria El Excelente in Pilsen; Joong Boo Market in Avondale

Thursday, June 25, 2015

It's been a rainy June, a busy June. At times I find myself thankful for the rain because it means my small herb garden will live despite my neglect. I have a pile of unread New Yorkers on my dresser, a Sandra Cisneros book that's long overdue but somehow I made my way through it, reading a few minutes on the bus, during the second half of my lunch break. For my standards, my life is a bit overbooked. There's work, volunteering, dance classes, babysitting from time to time, the weekend baby showers and weddings. I don't know if I like feeling pulled in so many directions - I think of David Brooks' notion that "we do not all have to shine" a lot these days - but right now, those things that stress me out also cure my boredom. I'd like to pare down, focus more on less, but maybe that's what winters are for. 

For now I'll just be busy, doing all of the things I've always wanted and am lucky enough to do, and when time permits, I'll walk around the block at the magic hour, sit on my steps with thai leftovers, and count the fireflies from my stoop.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

My senior year of college, I got really into the idea of soapmaking. 

I never actually made soap but I did start to take a second look at my beauty products, thinking twice before I reached for that $2 bottle of Suave shampoo at the drugstore. All the blog reading I did, the experimenting with making my own products, was fun and reminiscent of my days as a kid playing arts and crafts but I've come out the other side a moderate.

Mostly I've made the switch from commercial products to eco-friendly ones because I like things that are cheap and all-purpose. Coconut oil, Borax, vinegar, baking soda, essential oils, Dr. Bronner's, the DivaCup are my go to products but I'm not a purist. I wasn't a fan of making my own deodorant because well, sometimes I don't even have time to make my own dinner. My hair is also addicted to commercial shampoos, and when it comes to make-up, I just check the Good Guide before making any purchases and the highest score wins. 

I do believe that we should think about what we put in our waterways but in terms of personal health, I throw up my hands and honestly couldn't care less. I'm not wholly convinced parabens can kill you, and if they can, I'll just put it on the list of all of the other things I do that are potentially unsafe like ride a bike in the city, live in Honduras, drive a car and really, just walk out my door into the world every day.

The truth is that I know that those other choices like flying to Honduras and driving a car are more taxing for the environment than my soap choice. I try my best to minimize as best as I can. I think about my environmental footprint probably to an unhealthy degree, and in the end, remind myself to subscribe to Anne Lamott's advice that a good night time meditation is just saying to yourself "Oh well". High ambitions are great for the morning but also, come the end of the day, it might not hurt to forgive yourself every once in a while. 

Mark Bittman recently wrote a thoughtful piece in the New York Times about whether or not our health conscious, vote-with-your-dollar food movement is making any real wins. He made valuable points, as he tends to do, reminding us of an often forgotten part of the whole struggle: "[We need to learn] how to use basic organizing skills and how to fight. We need to prioritize one or more issues, we need to unite on those issues, and we need to gather others to apply pressure on politicians at every level and directly on corporations when possible." Rather than rearranging my medicine cabinet, the real fight (regardless the cause) should be to organize. Not that rearranging one's medicine cabinet is bad. That's the fun part, whereas Bittman's suggestion is the more complex and frustrating option.

There are a lot of ways to be an advocate. "Change requires a constant drumbeat," Rex Huppke wrote in an op-ed about an entirely different subject. "It requires calls and emails to lawmakers, support for legislation that rights what you see as wrong, a continuous hand stretched out into communities in turmoil, mentoring, donating, advocating. It requires presence and a relentless will to turn things around, preferably before something tragic happens." 

I don't know how I ended up quoting an article about Chicago gang violence in this post about coconut oil but I guess to me the message is all the same. 

But back to beauty. Here are some resources that I found helpful in my quest for a bit kinder beauty routine, which I think emphasis sense and simplicity:

A french woman's beauty routine
Lykke Li's favorite products - for those who are a bit more luxurious
Sierra Club's guide to safe cleaning products - sadly the original PDF is MIA
Also, just for fun, some Instagram beauty that's been coloring my days recently

Sunday, May 17, 2015

When I'm living in Chicago, I have a tendency not to tune in to the everyday magic that surrounds me as much as I would abroad. Chicago is all very normal and commonplace but still, it's nice to remind myself of a few things that are especially beautiful right now, like walking down the boulevard in the morning on the way to the bus with the morning light shining through and the leaves emerging. And having a job to go to every day. And cooking and chopping vegetables and collecting recipes in the kitchen while I listen to podcasts or dance bachata in place and wait for the water to boil. Also, seeing the skyline while driving down the highway at night, going back home on Sundays to see family, and mainly just feeling like I am where I should be.