Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hard times for Honduran capital

National Theatre, Tegucigalpa
Our Cuso International training continues, launched on this particular day with a heavy morning session with Honduran journalist Iris Mencia.
You have to be brave to be a boat-rocking journalist in Honduras, and she fit the bill. She gave us a frank and eye-opening introduction to the rough and tumble history of her country, especially since the 2009 coup that ousted former president Manuel Zelaya.
 But Iris also turned out to be lots of fun and a local celebrity to boot, bundling us into a taxi in the afternoon for a walking tour of downtown Tegucigalpa in which she seemed to know virtually everyone we passed. She even convinced the security guard at the 1912 National Theatre to let us wander around the place even though it was closed.
And she plays the melodica. How can you not take a shine to anyone who plays the melodica?
My partner and I have travelled a  lot in Mexico and had wondered whether Honduras would feel similar. But Tegucigalpa reminds me most of Havana, where I visited in the mid-1990s. Cuba was in a bleak period back then, having lost the vital support of the Soviet Union as that Communist stronghold fell apart. Havana was essentially a beautiful slum when I was there, its colonial architecture crumbling and impoverished Cubans squatting everywhere.
The Honduran capital isn't quite so desperate-looking as that. But the slow deterioration of everything that was once beautiful is certainly evident. One of the women we were with lives in Tegucigalpa but hadn't been to the centre of the city for years, and she seemed stunned by what had been lost.
We visited the Museum of National Identity and were the only people there for much of the time, although the streets bustled with people with no jobs to go to. The unemployment rate in Honduras is 28 per cent; apparently anyone over the age of 35 can pretty much forget ever finding another job. That's grim news in a country with no social supports.
The heartening thing about people is that they just keep on keeping on. When we walked past a group of fellows who appeared to be in the midst of a hard life, one of them overheard us speaking English and gave us a big smile, calling out "Welcome to Honduras!" as we passed. 

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