Saturday, August 14, 2010

Life is Made up of Joy and Sadness

I have to play catch up on this edition of my Blog. I’m preparing to leave the island once again to return to Germany where I will attend the wedding of Judith and Daniel, the daughter of my dear friends, Annette and Claus. But, I need to wrap up things with my Blog as, unlike last year, I doubt I’ll be able to handle blog submissions from Europe. I will not take a computer and, therefore, will not have the luxury of sitting in my room in the evening writing up my experiences. I am anxiously looking forward to my trip and to visiting with friends and family during my short stay over in the States on the way to and from Germany. I hope to have a lot to report on when I return, especially the wedding in K├╝nzelsau. So, with that, here goes.......

July was a month that brought wonderful parties: the wedding on Clark Cay (covered by an earlier blog) and the 4th of July party at Wilmont Bay. Unfortunately there was bad news too.

One difficult thing, emotionally, on the island is death. Of course death is always an extremely emotional experience, but I think it hits one harder here on the island than, say, in the United States. We do not have morticians here on the island, we do not have embalming, we do not have cremation but we have heat, and time is against us. In the States, matters are put into the hands of a funeral director thus avoiding a lot of unpleasantness and further stress on the family. This is not the case here on the island and all arrangements must be dealt on an up-close-and-personal basis and as quickly as possible.

July 13, 2010 Wanda DeLisa, Age 77, died from the results of emphysema in her home at Savannah Bight, Guanaja, Isla de la Bahia, Honduras. She and her husband, Bill (Age 81), lived on the island for 25 of their 26 married years. Both had children by previous marriages.
Wanda had, in the past several years suffered from two hip injuries resulting in the replacement of both hips. In the past few years she suffered from emphysema and it was this that took her to the hospital on the Mainland 5 days before her death. She was a heavy smoker and for years chose not to forego this habit to relieve her condition.

We recently saw Bill and Wanda on the coast in late March when we went over to La Ceiba to renew our residency. Bill and Wanda came into the Immigration office after we had been there for a while. Wanda, who was now walking with the aid of a walker, sat silently not saying very much. Bill was having some difficulties with the renewal process and, unfortunately, had failed to bring the proper documentation to renew their cards. We chatted briefly with Bill and left him to his helper while we finished our paperwork. We did not see them again.

Bill and Wanda lived in a house on the Northeast End high up in the hills. Getting to their house, I understand, is quite a task as the approach to the house was simply a winding path cut out of the mountain. Bill and Wanda were spry for their age but Bill did most of the shopping in Savannah Bight and made most of the trips to the Cay alone when it was necessary to go there for items they could not find close to home. Thus, our encounters with Bill and Wanda were infrequent at best. I think in our 13 years here we saw Wanda maybe a total of 10 times; 4 of those on the Mainland, usually at the airport. We have never been to their home as 1) it is quite a distance from our end of the island, 2) for years there was no line of communication to their house from ours and 3) because of the lack of communication we never knew when they would be home and certainly would not just “drop” in. So, we had a passing acquaintance. However, news on the island travels fast and we heard of Wanda’s accidents and the occasional comings and goings of the couple.

Evidentially Wanda’s emphysema worsened and Bill took her to the hospital in La Ceiba on July 8th. Wanda spent 4 days in the hospital. She was considerably weaken by her inability to breathe properly. Finally, the doctor told Bill there was not much more they could do for her. Bill asked Wanda if she wanted to go home and she replied “yes” as she did not want to spend her last days in the hospital. Bill arranged for a charter plane to take them back to the island on Monday the 12th. Wanda was flown home and literally carried up the hill where she died Tuesday evening. We were advised of her demise by friends who live near Savannah Bight and learned that the funeral would be the very next day.

When we arrived in Savannah Bight the found Wanda was laid out in the back bedroom in the home of friends of theirs. She had been dressed in a purple dress and the women who prepared her for her coffin had taken great pains to see that she looked her best. It was odd to see Wanda in a dress as, generally, in our “sightings” of her and Bill she always wore pants and a top! The women of Savannah Bight evidentially decided she needed to be buried looking her best. Poor Wanda was terribly thin after her ordeal and may have weighed less than 85 lbs. Since most of the men were up at the graveyard digging the grave, there had been no one to put her in the casket. Several young men did arrive finally and without any litany held at the house, she was laid in the casket while the mourners looked on. Her casket was loaded onto the back of a truck and we all walked behind it to the cemetery. Bill was very bereaved and, thankfully, had friends to support him on the walk.

Upon arrival at the grave, we found the workers were still digging. The ground around Savannah Bight is very rocky and digging a grave is an all day ordeal. The women who had prepared Wanda for her casket, said a few words and then sung hymns during the lowering of the casket into the grave.

I think the most awful sound to my ears that day would be that of hard clumps of dirt hitting the casket. It is heart wrenching to hear and I felt so bad for Bill as we all, as the custom here is to stay until the grave is filled. These sounds rained down on our ears and was almost unbearable. Various men took turns filling in the grave and, at one point, just to keep busy and, I think, to be part of his wife’s final moments, he too took up a shovel and assisted.

The singing went on during the whole time (about 45 minutes) and the women stayed true by waiting until the grave site was filled and all the flowers were in place before departing.

Generally, on the island, people are put on “ice” at the local fish plant until the time of the funeral. I will not go into detail as to the condition of the bodies during this period, even if for only one day or several. Suffice it to say that death here is most unpleasant and one is witness to things I would never have seen in the States. Out of respect for the dead, I will not elaborate upon those things here. Fortunately, the people of this island treat the departed with a great deal of respect and do the best that they can and, for the most part, do a good job.

Our condolences go out to Bill. I know it will be hard for him to live alone now, especially since he and Wanda had spent the majority of their time in each other’s company. I only hope that he can find peace and happiness in his remaining years and that, with the aid of friends in the community, he will find be able to cope.

Life goes on, as they say and we now have seen summer visitors return to the island: Dick and Jennifer with their sons and their respective girlfriends, Joan and David, Bill and Martha, Chris and Laura, and family visitors spending time with Bonnie and Bob, and many others. We enjoy it when people return to the island as it gives us the opportunity to catch up on what has been going on in their lives or to meet new people and hear about their experiences.

So, to those I leave behind, temporarily, I wish you good weather in August and September and I’ll be back blogging, hopefully, with renewed freshness!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Guanaja Carnival 2010

Once again, Guanaja celebrated "Festival del Caracol" (Festival of the Conch) with 6 days of activities for young and old. This was the 3rd Festival and from my observation it is getting better and more organized each year.

I have little information as to why the Festival was created, my first thought being a way to get Guanaja recognized, attract tourists and provide a celebration of heritage for its inhabitants. While all reasons may be be applicable, it has turned into a fun week and a challenge for the islanders!

The first year we were surprised at the inventiveness of the islanders in decorating. With limited resources at their disposal it was something to see in the initiative taken and the ideas that were formed.

The Festival was created to celebrate the landing of Christopher Columbus on the island of Guanaja on July 30, 1502. It has always been part of the tales told on the island that he landed on Soldado Beach after a lengthy voyage. He christened the island "Isle of the Pines" and after a short stay (no one is sure of the length) he sailed on toward the northern continental coast and to Puerto Castilla. I find little information to say if he ever returned to Guanaja nor what his encounters consisted of while here. Of course, because of this fact the locals here have turned his landing into a Festival complete with a re-enactment of what they think may have taken place. This is re-enacted on the final day of the Festival on Soldado Beach.

During the 6 days of Festival, there are parades, bands, dancing, food, fireworks, floats and a spectacular flotilla on the last day culminating this event.

I have missed most of the celebrations in the past due to a lack of information as to the time of day when the activities would take place. The fact that most of the "action" happens at the far opposite end of the island from where I live means I would be traveling at night which is not something a cherish when I am not familiar with the reefs in that area. Therefore, knowing a time schedule would help considerably in attending those events that take place during daylight hours.

This year we were in Mangrove Bight for opening day and had heard that the parade would take place about 3:00 p.m. Mangrove Bight earned the privilege of opening the Festival with the Coronation of the Queen of the Festival this year, which had, to this point, been held in Bonacca Town. Our Granddaughter, Alyssa, who was visiting us was taking dive lessons from George at G&G's Clearwater Paradise Resort, and my husband and I took the boat over to Mangrove Bight to view the festivities while she was occupied.

The morning apparently was dedicated to games for the children and people were still setting up their stands in anticipation of the parade and coronation. The decorations were outstanding. This year someone bought a mold for a cannon and the townspeople collected recyclable plastic, melted it down and used it for the molding of the various cannons on display at the main dock. They were well done and quite realistic! A large platform had been erected and decorated to accommodate the coronation which, I am told, was to take place in the evening. The streets were decorated with streamers and huge colorful masks accenting the sides of buildings, fences and poles. Palm fronds were added and the whole effect was one of a well-planned effort by the people of Mangrove Bight.

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera at G&G's but thought I could take photos when we returned for the parade. This was not to be as when we headed back to the Bight for the parade, a sudden summer storm produced piercing rain which made it almost impossible to see while driving our boat. So, we passed up the Bight and drove on home in the blinding rain.

More activities followed during the week: a celebration in the town of Brisas del Mitch, a barbecue at Graham's Place complete with two live bands, a celebration in the town of Savannah Bight and more parades and fireworks on El Cayo (Bonacca Town) on Saturday. Sunday was the final day and this is something I look forward to every year.

Boats are gaily and artfully decorated. They are first motored around El Cayo and then they head to Soldado Beach were the pageant will take place. Every year the "Pirate Ship" gets better and better. This year the new "molded" cannons were present and they were actually firing them! People dressed as pirates had costumes which had gotten better since the first Festival and, to top it off, there was a boat decorated with a life-like, beautiful huge sea turtle and underwater sea life! A boat was decorated and provided who's sole purpose was to carry the Festival Queen to Soldado, another decorated as a mock-up of what might have been an Indian Hut on the beach. There was another one, just for fun, decorated with palm trees!

The beach was packed and parking was at a premium. With no spaces left on the beach people anchored their boats off shore and viewed the festivities.

There were booths set up from which one could buy refreshments or food. Of course, all during Festival, conch soup was high on the list, with fried pork or chicken being served as an alternative. A stage for the planned show of dancers in grass skirts and a scheduled live band to appear had been built. Of course there were speakers everywhere playing typical Caribbean Music. People were still in costume and, when we arrived, the pageant had commenced with the re-enactment of C. Columbus' landing.

Children played on the beach, women laid in the shade provided by umbrellas with babies, lovely women strolled along in swimsuits and, of course, a soccer game was in progress. The day long activity was to be culminated that evening with a bonfire.

All in all, in spite of being rained out on many days, the weather was picture perfect and a good time was had by all.

I truly expect next year's Festival to be even better.....maybe someone will finally post event times which would help considerably in enabling people to attend many of the festivities! I plan on attending more of the activities next year so I can report on even more advancements with Festival! Hmm, maybe they could hold a dance or a "talent" contest for young and old alike to get more people involved. Local crafts could be displayed and/or sold ..... the possibilities are endless.

I offer my congratulations to all the people whose hard work made the 3rd Conch Festival a wonderful success, a great show and fun for all. It was truly a labor of love which showed in all planned activities.