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PROLOGUE

You’ve probably heard life compared to weaving. Each individual thread of experience creates an important part of the fabric. Seemingly random colors and textures result in a final, beautifully patterned rug that is life.

I don’t think so.

I think life is a stack of books, one on top of another. Some are thick, some are thin. There are large ones and others that are small and because the books aren’t identical, the stack isn’t very well balanced. As it gets taller it sways and reels. When you finally get old enough to worry about falling and not getting up, you watch that pile lean and tilt. Then suddenly, it collapses.

And there you are - your life a clutter of books with broken spines, tattered covers, and moldy dog-eared pages. Some books you remember like yesterday, others you’d swear you’d never seen before. Some you don’t even want to touch. They are buried down there near the bottom of the pile, foxed and musty smelling and you wonder if they did anything beyond take up space.

Like Donde No Hay Doctor near the bottom of the pile. My 1983 paper-back bible for coming back from Peace Corps Honduras alive. The whole book is in Spanish and while I still know the title means “where there is no doctor” I find it hard to believe I was actually able to read all the pages. Touching the cover brings back memories of so many feelings and experiences tightly wrapped in the cellophane of time.

 My here and now disappears as thoughts and experiences from decades ago float back to the surface. My present day life becomes vague and hazy as I remember the old colonial church and the resinous pine smoke that scented the countryside like incense. The bronzed faces of campesinos. The taste of a warm tortilla, the burn of the local rum. The dry season dust gritting my teeth. Trey and Jasper. Peter and Sheila. Liddy. One of a kind, Liddy.

 

Back then my name was - still is - Ellen Pletka. I grew up with three brothers. So, despite my mother’s vain attempts to turn me into a girly, girl, I was always more comfortable hanging out with the guys. Playing in the dirt, building forts and exploring the woods. Later the milieu involved backpacking in the Appalachians and nursing beers at sticky wooden-topped tables in taverns with TV’s above the bar. In college I majored in botany, which meant I could spend time out in the fields and woods and my fellow students were more male than female.

Dating wasn’t an unnatural dress-up mating game, it was just a natural evolution from trading jokes to kisses in the parking lot. After a few on-again off-again relationships I found Josh. He was an easy-going aspiring forest ranger and I pretty much thought I’d found my soul mate for life.

After three years of dead end jobs for both of us, I decided to go for my Master’s Degree in agriculture. Diving into science academia was fun and stimulating. And as my world grew bigger and more interesting, Josh’s narrowed. His job as apart-time ranger at a state park had him emptying trash cans and repairing broken picnic tables; his free time was spent in those sticky bars drinking beers, and lounging on the couch in our apartment, burning holes in the upholstery the size of his joints.

“Josh,” I said one evening, as I dumped a grocery sack on the counter that separated our kitchen from TV area. I’d been working at the extension office for seven months now and I was making a decent salary and paying most of the bills.

“Josh. Why don’t YOU get your Master’s?” I asked. Or just do something more than kick back one hundred percent of the time

I thought as I waved smoke from my eyes.

“Relax,” he drawled. “I don’t need that. I’m fine.”

His hair was greasy and stringy. He’d been wearing the same shirt for three days and as I looked at him, slouched back and long limbs taking up most of the sofa, I wondered where the fun energetic Josh of a few years ago had disappeared to. True, for every national park ranger job there were hundreds of applicants, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t be the one selected in the future.

I grabbed the joint from his hand and sucked a lungful. This used to be fun. But that was when it wasn’t the only thing we did with our free time.

“Dukes of Hazzard is next,” he said.

And basically that was it. If marijuana, beer and Dukes of Hazzard were the big events in Josh and my life, it was time to do something radical. Something totally different.

Back in the bedroom closet, I rifled through the orange crate that held the resumes and job applications that I’d filed after becoming an assistant extension agent. There it was, on a clump of printed card-stock, my Peace Corps Application.

Five months later, I was on my way. Central America. Honduras. A Peace Corps Volunteer.

CHAPTER ONE

I heard about Liddy Hauschulz my second week in Honduras. My training group was at the Peace Corps headquarters in Tegucigalpa. It was only a few blocks from the middle-class neighborhood training center where we Peace Corps aspirants met daily. Sonia, our trainer and guide, told us we would be required to visit the Peace Corps Office three or four times a year.
At first my acceptance to Peace Corps Honduras was thrilling. And I'd left my home in Pennsylvania pretending I hadn't dumped my boyfriend Josh - actually I don't know if he even noticed - and I focused on pie-in-the-sky dreams. I was going to learn about a new country. I was going to make new friends. I was going to become fluent in a foreign language. I was going to see and do amazing things. I was going to make the world a better place - and I was going to have fun doing it.

But after four weeks of third-world living my initial excitement was ebbing. It looked like the same thing was happening to other trainees. On arrival our training group of twenty-three volunteers was bright-eyed, health conscious and tobacco-free. By the first Friday, five of those hopeful PCV's were meeting between language classes to smoke on the roof. This past Monday Bob, one of the older men, arrived in class reeking of liquor and sporting bruises on his face. Culture shock and the realities of living in a third world country were hitting my group pretty hard; and I wasn't finding the visit to the Peace Corps office very encouraging.

The first place Sonia took us at the Peace Corps office was the nurse's annex. A couple sat in the waiting area, next in line for the required anti-hepatitis gamma globulin shots. It wouldn’t have surprised me if they already had the disease. Thin and pale, they looked like spindly sun-starved seedlings as they wished us lethargic "Good luck"s. A young woman in a red bandanna and blue jeans sat next to them flaunting her arm that oozed with an open sore.

"I've got a get a medical evacuation," she told our group in a loud fast voice. "I think the dog had rabies," she shouted as our trainer led us quickly down the paper-back book-lined corridor and across the lawn to the pleasant patio behind the main building.

While Sonia went inside to arrange our meeting with the country director, I stood with my group, part of an uneasy cluster. Numerous leather lounge chairs lined the patio filled with those exotic creatures – actual Peace Corps Volunteers.

"Newbies, huh?" the young man had greasy limp hair. "I hope you have a better site than I have."

"Yeah, don't let them send you to Olancho." said a partially balding man, "It's the wild west. Mary's counterpart was just killed."

Mary was the tear-streaked girl in a white dress, she hunched in a chair in the back corner.

"They just shot her," she sobbed, "It was just supposed to be a party."

A heavyset girl was reading a paperback two seats from Mary. A duffel bag and suitcase sat by her feet. Looking up from her book, she addressed our group. "I'm getting my ticket home." Turning to Mary she added, "So should you."

This visit was giving me the willies. I wondered how many of my group would join the ranks of the rooftop smokers tomorrow. Or arrive at the training center wearing rotgut perfume. I hoped desperately that I wouldn't be one of them.

I was relieved when Sonia burst through the screen door with a bright," Come on in! The director is ready!"

The director's office had a tile floor and looked like it had once been a two-car garage. We were offered cups of coffee - a cold beer would have been more welcome - while the dark-haired director was introduced. Energetic, he spoke like a coach, pumping us up for the big game. He told us how important we were, what an exciting challenge we were facing and how this was going to be the toughest job we'd ever love.

Right now, he told us from his office in the ritzy embassy neighborhood, there were amazing volunteers living with no running water, with no electricity, and doing amazing things. Liddy Hauschulz was a shining example. An unpromising trainee, she now walked ten miles, up steep mountain tracks to her site daily. The machismo deeply entrenched in Honduran society hadn't daunted her. She had become part of her community and her project was changing lives. Pointing to a fifteen-foot long flow chart taped to one wall and bending around the next, he showed off the flow chart of Liddy's project. Step by step Liddy had strategically planned her direction. No matter that she'd been hospitalized twice, once flown from her site close to death, nothing deterred her. She'd even signed up for an extra tour of duty to help her community project come to completion.

"The only problem with Liddy," laughed the director," is getting her to take a vacation! She never wants to leave her site!"

Clearly, he didn't really think it was a problem; I got the feeling that the director wouldn't mind if all of us decided not to take vacations. My enthusiasm restored, I kept the ideal of Liddy Hauschulz in mind. A female role model, it was pretty refreshing. All of my role models growing up, except for a brief infatuation with Joan of Arc, had been male. So the fact that a woman was making a difference in a male-dominated society, meant I had a chance to make a difference, too.

Every time a fellow trainee fell into despair or I met a disgruntled volunteer, I'd think of Liddy. And with every passing week, and every guest speaker, it seemed like everyone had an amazing Liddy Hauschulz story – the time she took on the Honduran military, the time she escaped from a Guatemalan jail, the special invitation from the embassy. The stories kept coming... and so did my encouragement. Okay, I might have spent a little too much time drinking beers with a few of the guys in my training groups, but I did that at home, too. All in all, I was pretty pleased to survive three long months in the capital in reasonable mental and physical shape.

Just before the end of my training period, my site location was announced. Yamaranguila, Intibucá.

"You're lucky, Ellen," said Sonia. "Liddy Hauschulz is in La Esperanza, just a few miles from your site. She can help you get settled.”

And help me pronounce the town’s name, I hoped.

 

I went to Intibucá the next week ready to meet the people I would be working with and to find a place to live and to finally meet Liddy. But all I saw of Liddy was her bed.

Liddy rented a room in a house on the central park with Sheila and Peter, a married couple, who let me stay in their house. They told me I could use Liddy's room since she was out of town.

"She won't mind, Ellen," Sheila told me as she opened a door off the living area on the second floor. "She lives up in the mountains most of the time."

Sheila, tall and blond, could have served as a poster of Aryan superiority. Her tall blue-eyed husband Peter was equally attractive. Wearing a denim skirt, Sheila walked like a model as she led me across the musty room of peeling adobe walls. Two Jose Antonio Velasquéz posters were pinned into the whitewashed adobe and the far wall had a pair of double doors that faced the park. Sheila pushed the doors wide open, allowing fresh air to dilute the musty atmosphere of the room. Outside a jacaranda tree lifted branches that cast dappled shade across the peeling blue paint of the railing and the warped wooden floor boards I saw an antique-looking cast iron fountain, decorated with brightly painted flamingos and flowers, shady trees, and a tiny food kiosk. A tall thin palm on the far side of the park provided an exclamation point.

Feeling like an interloper, I dropped my backpack on the floor next to a large snake charmer basket and a stiff wooden chair covered with discarded clothing. A tattered pair of brown Adidas, one upright, the other on its side, hid under the chair legs. The leather stripes had come unstitched, and one of the soles was split across the worn tread, mute witness to miles of hard use. I glanced from Liddy's shoes to mine. It looked like we might have shoe size in common. I hoped I would share her physical stamina in my new job.

"You sure she won't mind?"

"Not at all. She's taken some of the Hondurans to get an award in Tegucigalpa, and then they're going to the coast. They wanted to see the ocean. She won't be back until next week."

"Wow." I wondered how many Peace Corps volunteers earned awards for their projects.

"Liddy's been lucky," said Sheila. "She has great villages and great people to work with." Sheila looked critically into my eyes. "Liddy said Yamaranguila is going to be tough... If you want to, you can stay here as long as you want. There's a bus – really a pickup truck - you could take to Yamaranguila. It goes there every day."

Tough. The comment made me uncomfortable.

"Our two-year contracts are up in four months, so you could rent our room after that. You could work there, but live here." She paused. "Just think about it."

 

 

Lying on Liddy's hard bed, between cold green cotton sheets and under a Guatemalan wool blanket, I tried to feel positive vibrations. The stripes of red and yellow reindeers danced across the blanket and it still had a sheepy smell. I sneezed and tried to call up the aura of a successful tour of duty. With the patio doors closed, the musty scent was growing and was accompanied by another dead animal smell. I wondered if Liddy was bothered by the scent or if, after time, it failed to register on her olfactory sense. The pillow was only slightly musty, so I buried my nose into the wrinkled cotton pillowcase and shut my eyes. Right now was the beginning of the dry season, but this house spoke of two hundred years of rainy seasons, two hundred years of damp creeping out of the adobe walls and two hundred years of moisture oozing from wooden beams. The tiny spores of mold and mildew had probably started growing long before my ancestors sailed for America.

I flipped on my flashlight. The ceiling was highlighted. Warping ceiling slats gave evidence of leaking roof tiles. Maybe opening the doors would make the room more livable? I climbed out of the wooden bed and headed across the room as the stench grew stronger. I lifted the shirt from the chair. No mustier than the sheets and pillow but in this part of the room the dead animal smell was worse. My flashlight picked out the worn brown running shoes on the floor. Gingerly I lifted one, a dead rat scent perfumed the air. Laying the flashlight on the chair, I turned my head away and I picked up both shoes and quickly walked them to the closest door. Pushing it open, the cool night air wafted in.

I hurried down the balcony, pushing the shoes to the far end. Voices murmured from the far side of the park and I shivered in cool mountain air. Sure, I'd become a fan of the illusive Lydia Hauschulz. I even hoped to walk in her footsteps.

But most certainly, not in her shoes. I pushed open the other door and reentered the bedroom. The atmosphere was definitely improved.

I fell asleep imagining the path that I would take in three weeks, when I was actually a real volunteer, helping farmers and living in a place of my own. In Yamaranguila.

 

 

Every time I came into La Esperanza for meetings with the Department of Agriculture, I visited with Sheila and Peter and the other volunteers

"You're sure you're okay out there?" Sheila always asked." Liddy says it's a hard town to live in."

I still hadn't met Liddy. She had always just left, or was arriving later in the week. But she may have been right about Yamaranguila. I rented two rooms at the end of Don Eusebio and Doña Natalia long old white adobe opposite the colonial church, and they didn't want me to talk to other people. There was animosity between members of the Catholic Church and the new Evangelical chapel. I heard brawling in the street outside my kitchen. Living with people I could speak English to and relax with was tempting. My high ceilinged dark rooms were lonely. But I'd never learn the language, or really get to know the Hondurans, or become a legend living in a bedroom community, would I?

 …

Six weeks after I'd started into my life as an agricultural volunteer, I finally met Liddy. I'd knocked on the door of the long two story house next to the church and walked into the hallway following Sheila's welcoming voice. Sheila was cooking on the kerosene stove set up on the back porch area that opened on to a small courtyard called a solar. Peter had planted vegetables in one corner of the yard, and his rabbit hutches were in the other. Peter and Trey, a public health volunteer from Oregon, were sitting at the kitchen table on the covered patio playing scrabble.

"Don't skip my turn," Sheila was saying as I walked from the dark hall into the dappled sunlight of the solar. "Hi Ellen!" Sheila smiled and the guys echoed her welcome. "Liddy, you haven't met Ellen yet, have you?"

Sheila was talking to a hammock that was suspended just beyond the kitchen table from one of the high pillars that supported the second floor.

"Hi," came a voice from the hammock.

"Hi," I said watching as two legs swung out of the hammock and the Lydia Hauschulz took a sitting position in the hammock.

Considering her larger than life reputation, she didn't take up much space. When she pushed herself out of the hammock, she was thin and an inch shorter than my five foot six. Her eyes were light blue and her complexion was as pale and freckled as I was used to seeing on redheads. But Liddy's hair was a neutral color, sort of a cross between butterscotch and the camel hair coat I’d owned in sixth grade. It was twisted into braids that fell just below her shoulders. She gave me a faint smile as she assessed me, and I saw that one of her front teeth was slightly crooked. A faint line, maybe from a scar, flickered next to her small mouth. Her nose was straight and thin. On a beauty scale of one to ten - Sheila was a nine plus, and Liddy was probably between a five and six. Even with my extra pounds, I had Liddy beat by at least a point.

I hated myself for thinking that way. I loathe it when I fall into that catty female looks competition. I don’t do it consciously, so maybe it's genetic. Anyway, I hate it and I forced myself to look at her dismissing my critical thoughts.

"Don't you love hammocks?" she said sitting back in the web of red and blue strands, "I just got back from Chiligatoro and my feet were killing me."

I wondered if she was comparing my bus ride to her eight mile hike. Maybe she based her assessment of others on mileage rather than looks.

"But fifteen minutes in the hammock and they feel great."

The feet she was flexing wore bright blue Adidas that looked almost as worn as the brown ones in her upstairs room. But the only scent today was from Sheila's chicken soup.

"Get a hammock yet?" Peter asked. He'd told me that the prison in Tegucigalpa had the best ones and the best prices.

"Not yet, But I will." I nodded.

Sheila was concentrating on her rack of scrabble letters. Surreptiously, she flipped the egg timer.

"I saw that Sheila!" said Trey. "You're cheating."

"No, I'm not." Sheila triumphantly plunked five letters down on the border, "Triple word, double letter. I win." There was a knock on the door.

"Pase adalante." Sheila shouted.

A trio of Lenca Indians entered the patio with smiles and "Hola's. Peter and Trey stood and shook hands with a young man in the straw hat and strong dark features. Sheila touched palms to elbows with the two young women. Liddy rose from the hammock with a huge smile and a laugh. I smiled and nodded as rapid-fire introductions were made of names that went on forever and that I could never repeat.

Liddy's unremarkable looks had taken on a sparkle, as she said my name to the Hondurans and had them repeat it.

"EL Len" they said. "Ellen "said an animated Liddy." This I understood, so I added helpfully, "Elena."

"Ah, Elena," said the young women.

They spoke quickly to Liddy who turned to me. "They said you can't be Elena, since you were born in English, they want to learn to say your name the right way."

I introduced myself to everyone in Yamaranguila as Elena. I liked the Spanish version of my name. Now I wondered if I'd been talking down to everyone.

More fast Spanish and Liddy – LEE DEE – to the Hondurans, not the Spanish Lidia - turned. "I've got to go. Nice meeting you, Ellen."

The four disappeared into the shadows of the hallway followed by a bang of the front door.

CHAPTER TWO

Two weeks later I was at Sheila and Peter's arranging scrabble tiles when a loud pounding boomed up to the balcony. Someone was knocking on the large wooden front door. The sound interrupted Sheila's scrabble trance. She lifted her head from her tray of tiles and caught my eye.

"Want me to answer it, Peter?" she asked flicking a glance toward the staircase at the end of the room.

As Peter nodded, she rose from the table with natural athletic grace. It was easy to imagine Sheila back in the United States, blond hair shining in tennis whites and whacking a tennis ball across a country club court. Here in Honduras, she'd thrown herself into the third world life with the enthusiasm she had for sports.

"It's probably just Maria," she mused. "I wonder what she has."

I'd seen Maria once before, a Honduran door-to-door salesperson. She wore a red flowered dress, was barefoot, and always carried a wide flat basket on her head. She was so short that I could view her wares – fruit, vegetables, tamales or breads - just below my eye level. Peter, Sheila's husband stood six foot four inches and had to bend over to select items from Maria's basket.

"I'll get it," Peter was sitting reading Newsweek and was closer to the spindled wooden staircase that led to the ground floor that housed our kitchen and restroom facilities, and the double front door that was wide enough to admit a man on horseback. "Maybe she'll have oranges."

We listened as Peter's feet clattered down the staircase. Sheila stepped over to the wide double doors that opened out on to the balcony- like porch that spanned the length of the two-story adobe building. Now that I was getting used to La Esperanza, I could appreciate the architectural qualities of the house. More than one hundred years old, it had all the romantic qualities of Spanish influence in the Americas. Tile roof, spindle railing, colorful doors opening on to the porch that overlooked the Parqué Central in La Esperanza, Intibucá Honduras. The balcony was unusual in a town of mostly one-story buildings and in a place where every action of gringos was under scrutiny, it offered us a haven where we could see the activity of town, without being on display ourselves. I felt the guilty pleasure of anonymity every time I came to visit.

"If Maria has onions, I'll have Peter get some," said Sheila stepping out on the balcony and bending over the wooden rail. "Oh. It's not Maria."

In the shadows below Sheila, I could see Peter's curly brown hair beside a broken once-white cowboy hat – the kind all of the farmers wore to protect themselves from the sun. A brown arm in a pink long sleeve shirt was extending a bottle toward Peter and their heads bobbed in conversation.

"What's he got, Peter?"

Peter's head raised, along with the shorter man's.

"Come on down," Peter's voice held a vibration of excitement. "It's really cool."

I followed Sheila as she bounced down the stairs and joined Peter in the doorway.

"Look," Peter said, holding up a narrow jar of white rocks sloshing in water. He lifted the jar up to the sky and let the dappled sunlight penetrate the shards; flashes of red and yellow flickered in the olive jar.

"Opals. Aren't they cool?"

"Opalos," the small man extended another small olive-sized jar to Sheila.

"Oh, wow, Peter, These are amazing. Is that blue?"

"He walked here from Erandique – where they have the opal mines – and he's selling them."

"A cómo son?" Sheila used the colloquial version for asking the price.

"A cinco."

"Five. Only five lempiras, Peter? "Sheila shared a delighted look with her husband.

"We have to get them!" Peter agreed. "I'll go get the money."

"He'll be back in a moment," Sheila told the man as Peter ducked inside the house and ran up the stairs.

"Do you have any more?" I asked quietly.

"Only this." The jar was tiny, less than half the size of a baby food jar. The opals were smaller, more shard than rock, but they caught the light as he raised the jar. Flashes reflected the color of fire and sunshine. It could be mine for only two lempiras.

I didn't have to think. I pulled two ripped one lempira notes from the back pocket of my blue jeans and handed the elderly bills to the man from Erandique.

 

 

Later that afternoon, we sat around the wooden table admiring our opals. Monica, who lived around the corner, was jealous. So were Bill, Trey, and Dave who lived and worked in other parts of town. Jasper, the newest of the volunteers tried to convince all of us to sell him the opals.

"Come on, guys," Jasper whined. "It's not fair."

"Maybe you should go to Erandique and get your own," commented Peter.

"Erin DEE Kay? How far away is that?" asked Monica. "It might be fun to go there."

I was surprised that Monica would consider hiking fun. She worked two blocks away for the Junta doing something with a children's feeding project. Some kind of paperwork thing that I didn't understand when she told me about it. I got the feeling she didn't understand it either. Instead, she seemed to serve as an arbiter of fashion for the middle-class women she worked with - tight blue jeans, kitten heels, hairdos and fingernail polish. All the girly things that made me uncomfortable and I didn't think worth spreading in a third world country. Sheila and Liddy's lifestyle was one I was much more comfortable with.

"Semana Santa is coming. We could all go," Dave said. "I'm game."

So were Bill and Peter and Sheila. "We could buy more to take home. Who knows how to get there?"

Sheila interrogated the locals and the next week was able to tell us that there was a bus, but it only ran once a week, and sometimes didn't run at all. Most travel between La Esperanza and Erandique was done by foot.

And the main trail led from my town of Yamaranguila. One day of walking would lead to the village of Dolores, and a second day's walk would get us to Erandique. According to Sheila's informants, Erandique was a pleasant town, with a wide river that would be great for people who knew how to swim. Even if you didn't, it was a wonderful place to bathe. There was a swinging bridge, and opals were cheap and plentiful. We might even find opals laying in shallow gravel depressions, free for the taking.

"This will be so much fun," enthused Sheila. "What a great Semana Santa trip. We won't have to be here for all those processions and singing."

 She explained that with the house so close to the town church, last year they'd endured hours of singing that sounded like a chorus of tortured cats, and the endless ringing of the church bell that sounded like trash cans being thrown in an alley.

"This will be so much better. I can't wait," she said.

"I just hope Jasper doesn't come," said Peter his handsome face grimacing.

"You're coming aren't you?" Sheila asked me. "There'll be so many of us, it should be fun, and I'll bet Liddy will come, too." Sheila encouraged.

"Great," I agreed.

The more I heard about the trip, the more my enthusiasm grew. I tried to figure out our route tracing lines on the topographical maps that lined the walls of the room on the second floor that Sheila and Peter used as a living room. I would get to see more of the country in the company of volunteers who had survived and thrived in this foreign environment. I would return with opals and someday in the future, I would find a rock tumbler and turn the raw materials and my memories into real jewelry. But since I wasn't into jewelry, the real gems would be sharing the experience with Sheila and Peter and Liddy.

 

***

Sheila was happily placing her tiles on a triple space when Peter entered the room. "Sharon and Ed have invited us to Tela for Semana Santa," he told Sheila.

"The beach! That sounds great!" Sheila's excitement was palpable. Peter was excited too. Raised on the California coast, he often said he felt trapped by the mountains. "I know we were going to the opal mines, but the coast sounds like heaven."

I felt a drop in my stomach. I was really comfortable with Sheila and Peter. If they bowed out of the trip, it wouldn't be as much fun.

But with apologies, Peter and Sheila, pulled out of the Erandique trip. Next Monica twisted her ankle in her kitten heels and decided that she wouldn't be able to walk that far. Bill, who'd been watching Monica with puppy dog eyes for a month, offered to keep her company. Dave's Honduran girlfriend didn't want him out of town for so long. Trey decided to visit the National Parks in Costa Rica. What had started as a huge pilgrimage was dwindling to nothing.

"I still want to go." Liddy was sitting on the balcony drinking a Coca-Cola. Her appearances rarely coincided with mine but she'd just stopped in after visiting her agency headquarters before it shut down for the entire Holy Week. "Maria Santos has been to Erandique and she says it's wonderful." Liddy's voice was wistful." She said at Dolores there's a swinging bridge that crosses the Rio San Juan. And the river's supposed to be wide and not too deep, perfect for swimming. And she said Erandique doesn't just have opals in mines, Maria Santos said they're everywhere. Lying in the sand and gravel, sparkling like rainbows. You just pick them up. Or buy them in jars for less than a lempira."

"The trail's really close to my house. I've been on the beginning and it looks great." My response was maybe too quick.

Liddy's response was a flicker of a glance and a tilt of the coke bottle.

"You could come and stay at my place in Yamaranguila tomorrow, and we could get a head start." Liddy might be the person I wanted to emulate, but I really didn't have much to offer. We weren't exactly strangers but we were just a little more than acquaintances. "If you still want to go."

"Do you want to go?"

Did I? Two gringas wandering out into the mountains where no one knew us. And no one would know exactly where we were. Actually, it didn't sound much different from most of my life in Honduras.

"Absolutely," I said.

"Okay," said Liddy. "I'll come out to your place tomorrow."


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Lily Boucher is the penname of a former art teacher. Travel has always been a priority. She spent four years in Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer and taught in the US Virgin Islands. She and her husband were married in Peru at Machu Picchu and as L.C. Sugar they both wrote and illustrated the amazing ALFADINOBET. They live on a lavender farm in western Colorado and share a home and studio with their pets.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I spent four years in Honduras, and every day was an adventure. Most events in the book are based on my actual experiences and those of other volunteers and Hondurans. It was an extremely poor and beautiful country in the 1980s and early 90s, with wonderful people.
Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
A class project was to change the point of view. My original manuscript was written from the point of view of Liddy. Changing to Ellen’s viewpoint was a challenge since I had to get inside the skin of a character who I really didn’t know.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The cover is a batik I did from a photo I took of Yamaranguila. I felt that the church, the barbed wire and the blues of the sky and mountains really spoke of the beauty of that small town.

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