A fading photograph

9 Sep

My Honduras vacation is over, and for the past week I have immersed myself in domesticity, as I try to bring my house back to order. I have slowly attacked the omnipresent dust that finds its way to every surface. I have named Pakistani dust cosmic dust. It has supernatural powers, because it can crawl inside a narrow groove, a crooked crevice behind a locked cupboard, even the inside pages of a closed book. It’s depressing, like a musty, gloomy blanket that covers your whole house.

I have finally finished the mountain of dirty laundry that my small, three-person family generates, while at the same time erasing the presence of the two live-in helpers who did nothing but crack my plates, smear grease all over the kitchen walls, stash sugar away inside a box full of old baby bottles, and furtively eat my daughter’s chocolates. I have let them go, to the astonishment of my relations, and our utter relief. True, I now have to do everything myself, but we can go without cooking if we feel like it, we can leave our wallets and handbags unattended, and breathe the precious, healthy air of total privacy.

Seeing my family in Honduras was wonderful. The lively talk and friendly silences, the delicious, memory-laden cooking, and that warm feeling of togetherness, as soothing and welcome as flannel sheets on a winter morning, or the smell of tuberose on a summer night.

I brought back some old photographs of my husband’s family that I had left in my mother’s house. And while looking through them and seeing the outdated fashions and the young faces of the elderly uncles and middle-aged sisters, I have been thinking that my memories of growing up in Honduras are very much like those old, fading, black and white photographs. My childhood experiences have very little to do with real life as it is lived in my country. They are a snapshot, a frozen image, a crooked, clumsy picture drawn by a child, where the paralyzing bureaucracy, the undisguised dishonesty and the failed economy do not exist.

Of course things change. I’ve never expected my hometown to remain the same, but the differences have left me feeling sad and old. I drove through streets that bear the same name they did years ago, when 35 seemed a long way off, but they seemed to have moved around. The lagoon is not where it used to be, and even the houses that still resemble the pictures in my head are a sad reminder of how everything else does not, with their peeling paint, their drooping windows and their neglected air. They look like the village tart after 20 years of hard living.

I think people give character to a place, and the old families, the people who grew up there, are fewer every day. Most of them prefer to live 45 minutes and a world away in the big city, and now my hometown is a temporary place, populated by those who come looking for work in the clothing factories. As a result, every other house has been turned into a snack bar, selling beer and carne asada with banana chips.

My feelings about Honduras are a strange combination. Together with the frustration of being unable to mail a postcard because the Post Office had run out of stamps, and the horror of hearing about the three people who were murdered on the bus while I was there, there is a curious, unexplainable feeling of acceptance. It’s a part of me that I cannot erase, and those memories from so long ago, as different to the current reality as they are, are dear to me. With every passing year, the colors become more muted, the voices become fainter, and yet, more vivid.

I can still hear the rustling of the palm trees as I walked home from school. I can recall the afternoon sunshine streaming through the kitchen window in our old house, and the dry, hot smell of my mother’s freshly ironed clothes.


One Response to “A fading photograph”

  1. charlotteotter September 9, 2007 at 2:11 pm #

    Welcome back Lizzy. I can tell how much you love your hometown, even though your visit was tinged with sadness from the changes there. I experience much the same when I visit South Africa – it can’t be the place of my childhood, change must be and yet I can’t avoid the melancholy feelings it arouses.

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