Tuesday, January 17, 2012

There's no preparing for a scary security briefing

We started our in-country training today at the Cuso International office here in Tegucigalpa. Other volunteers had warned me that what we would learn in the "security issues" portion of the day would be scary, and it was. Then again, I've been reading Honduran newspapers on-line for months now to get ready for coming here, and it had dawned on me quite some time ago that things would be a little different in my new land compared to good ol' Victoria.
As it turns out, the people who bear the brunt of the violence in Honduras are generally either participants of the drug trade or regular Hondurans trying to go about their daily lives. Attacks on foreigners like us are rare. Sadly, the reason for that is because it's known that foreigners might actually have connections somewhere who could help them or cause trouble for the perpetrators, while the Hondurans really don't have anybody.
In practice, what this means is that in the big cities at least, people who can afford it take taxis virtually everywhere (and even then, they first try to establish a relationship with a taxi driver they can trust). They avoid the yellow school-bus-style public transport, because that's courting trouble. They get very familiar with what parts of town you should just stay the heck out of.
When out walking, we were advised not to wear clothes or jewelry that draw attention, and to understand that carrying anything - a purse, a camera, a wallet, a laptop - potentially makes you a target. From this point on, we'll carry a small amount of Honduran currency - 10 or 20 lempiras, about a buck - in a front pocket to give to robbers. And you don't even think about resisting, because guns are commonplace.
It's not that violence happens all the time to everyone, of course. But it was quite clear from the presentation we had that it CAN happen to anyone at any time, and you just have to be prepared for that. Fortunately, I'm a plain dresser with not a whit of jewelry worth anything. But I do hope I never have to test whether I can stay calm during a robbery, and I certainly will take Cuso's advice about not making jokes at times like that.
There's nothing inherently violent about the Honduran people that has created this situation. So far, the ones we've met -  the ones we've passed on the streets and seen in the shops - have been universally friendly and welcoming. No, the problem is all about poverty, and a subsequent breakdown in civil society. (Well, that and a thriving cocaine trade originating in South America for markets in the U.S. and Canada.)
Almost half of Honduras's eight million residents live on less than $1.50 a day. Minimum wage is equivalent to $200 a month. Crimes of opportunity happen because people get hungry and desperate. Gangs - Honduras has the Mara - take hold.
The security situation in Honduras is a stark reminder that as the gap grows between a country's richest and poorest citizens, the impact is felt by everyone, regardless of economic status. The richer you are in Honduras, the bigger the razor-wire-topped wall you need around your home, and the higher the risk for your family every time you leave your fortress.
Remember that, Canada. OK, we're no Honduras, but the trends are all in the wrong direction when it comes to that gap.

1 comment:

Rob said...

I'm now reading both your and Paul's blogs. Wouldn't it be easier to play a harmonica than an accordion, especially on the road? It great to set down in a new place and realize that daily life isn't the same as the distilled version scene in newspapers and news programs. Still, I hope your experience is a safe one. If you can manage it, I recall how much easier and safer it was to fly around Central America than busing around.