Monday, February 06, 2012

The view from here

Chorti woman in her very rough kitchen - no electricity

Three weeks into our new life in Honduras, I’d be a fool to declare myself an expert on the place. Still, I’ve learned some things. So I offer up a few observations from the field, in no particular order:

The headlines are scary, but out of context. Yes, the murder rate in Honduras is the highest in the world, and the incidents of violence are so common in the big cities that one of the country’s papers now features a map of assaults, robberies and shootings in San Pedro Sula, the craziest city of the lot. But everyday life for most Honduran people is full of the ordinary activities of life: Feed the family; raise the kids; get the laundry done; go to work. If you removed the violence of the drug trade from Honduran life - violence that is primarily directed at other people in the drug trade - the picture would change significantly.
That said, I have met an astounding number of “regular folks” who have had someone murdered in their family. Partly that’s because poverty breeds violent robberies here, and partly that’s because....

The drug trade is fully integrated into the Honduran economy. If you needed one more reason for why the “war on drugs” is pointless, harmful and doomed to fail, come to Honduras. As long as demand for cocaine continues in the wealthy countries of the world, there will be a major industry in Latin American countries affecting every public institution, every town on the route that cocaine travels, every brash young man and impoverished family tempted by all that money.
Here in tiny Copan Ruinas, you need only stand on a street corner counting late-model deluxe trucks with windows tinted black to realize that no town on a major transportation route is immune. It’s not something that people here talk about, but it’s certainly a reality they all live with.  

Stone pilas really get your clothes clean. My light-coloured clothing has never looked better now that my clothes are being washed on a big block of stone out back. Sure, an automatic washer is quick and easy, but it’s no match for a straight-up scrubbing by hand and a sunny afternoon of drying on the criss-cross of clothes lines up on the terrazza.
The woman who runs our homestay where we’re living right now does our washing as part of the deal, but I rolled up my sleeves today and did a few items myself, not wanting to look like some pampered gringa. We’ll be moving into our own place in mid-February and I’m looking forward to testing out my own pila.

You can live without a hot shower. I never would have thought this to be true back in Canada, where a long hot shower was one of the highlights of my day. But I’ve quickly become accustomed to a much shorter rinse in much cooler water that is all you get when using the funny little shower heads-cum-hot water heaters that are the mainstays in Honduran homes.

The dogs lead desperate lives. A dog’s life is rough in any poor country, but I’ve never seen so many sick, disease-ridden, crippled, neglected creatures as live here in Honduras. Unlike cats, dogs don’t seem to be able to undomesticated easily, so these poor things continue to breed but are left to scrounge for scraps - which aren’t easy to find in a poor country where most people subsist on a scant diet of beans and corn, with few leftovers. The dogs' sad, sad eyes break my heart. If ever there was a place that needed a good spay/neuter program and a rescue group, this is it.

Hondurans work hard, and the poorest ones work even harder. Walk through any of the little indigenous communities surrounding Copan Ruinas and you quickly see how hard it is to be poor in a country with zero social supports. We visited a Chorti household where the woman divides her day between making clay pots (no kiln, no pottery wheel, just her and her strong arms) for $2.50 a pop and grinding corn for the tortillas that feed her family. She’s got running water but no electricity; her kitchen was a pitch-black cave with a dirt floor, with nothing for light but the fire in the big clay stove where she cooked her tortillas.

Honduran popcorn balls are amazing. Corn and beans are the staples here, so no surprise that popcorn balls are sold on the street as a cheap treat. Who knew that scruffier, smaller corn kernels and lots of molasses would yield even tastier popcorn balls than the ones I remember from Halloweens past? (Ah, those were the days, when nobody freaked out if the neighbour handed out something homemade.)
 I try not to think too much about the provenance of my new favourite treats, mind you, Food Safe kitchens being something of a rarity here in Honduras. And I definitely don’t want to know what they use to get the pink versions quite so electric-pink. Some things are best left unexplored.


lennor said...

Dear Jody,
You are having amazing firsts aren't you...
I experienced some of this in the village Tlamacazapa in Mexico in 2000.
And yes, poverty and violence go hand in hand in most countries where people can be exploited by a few...

those poor dogs...

Take care,


Very elequently put. I really appreciate these observations, put into words. I'll be sharing this blog far and wide to my family and friends who ask about my Honduran experience. Gaetane