Monday, June 04, 2012
Resistance is futile
A friend asked me recently if I ever felt “Third-Worlded out” living in Honduras.
Daily life in fact feels pretty First World here in Copan, what with cable TV in our comfy living room, hot showers every night and a good pizza place just down the road.
But the patterns of your life change even when you move across town, let alone to the second-poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. The comment got me thinking about what I do differently now that I live someplace where even a $10,000 annual volunteer stipend puts you in the ranks of the well-off.
I do the laundry by hand. This is an amusing development, considering that in my former life I didn’t even hand-wash the things that you were supposed to hand-wash, let alone things like towels and sheets. But we don’t have a washer or a dryer anymore and there’s no laundromat in Copan. I could probably take it to somebody, but mostly it just seems easier to do it myself.
I don’t have a car. Gas is the same price here as it is in Canada. That’s pretty good motivation for going carless. Add in the horrendous condition of the roads and the crazy way Hondurans drive, and walking looks better and better. We live about three blocks from the commercial centre and my workplace is a pleasant 15-minute stroll away, so it hasn’t been as big as an adjustment as I thought it would be. It does rule out fun little day trips into the surrounding countryside, however, unless you can find someone with a horse to rent.
I leave my iPod at home. I used to love long strolls with nothing but my Nano for company. But you just look too much like a rich gringo with your earbuds in and that distracted, I’m-in-my-own-head look that you get when you’re grooving to your own personal soundtrack. It’s not just about the risk of getting your stuff stolen – it’s about the way it sets you apart from everyone else in the community, seeing as I’ve yet to see anyone here strolling around with a personal stereo.
I dress very plainly. Those who know me might say, “Yeah? So what’s new about that?” But I’m talking really plain – I’ve got maybe 3 skirts, all in drab colours, and three pair of hopelessly practical shoes to be able to manoeuvre around the obstacle course of crazily canted cobblestones, gaping holes, dog poo, ragged concrete and mud that you deal with any time you walk out the door here. I’m not sure if my plain dressing is a deliberate attempt to minimize my profile or just what happens when you live in a really hot country with a lot of dirt roads.
I coexist with bugs. I’d be freaking out back in our land at the giant cockroaches and ants that wander at will around the house. But here I’m trying to just let it go. Nothing’s built airtight in a tropical country, so there’s no way to win this one. However, every now and then I do make my partner sweep a particularly large cockroach out the door, and today we put a towel under the door near the kitchen to stop the stream of ants scouring the ceramic tile for bits of food.
My eating habits have changed. I was a happy carnivore back in Canada, with a long list of “treat” foods that I indulged in whenever I needed a little pick-me-up. Alas, neither meat nor treats are common here. The best you can say about any baked good here is, “Well, it’s not that terrible.” The chocolate is scarce and mediocre to boot even when you do manage to find any. I have been reduced to buying bags of wrapped caramel candies called “Bianchis” – the only tolerable candy I’ve found in Copan – and eating two or three whenever I feel desperate.
I throw my toilet paper in a garbage can. I don’t know what it is about poor countries, but their bad plumbing seems to be universal. At any rate, you can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet here. I’m not happy about it, but so it goes.
I pour dog food onto my front step every night. Virtually every dog here, owned or stray, is underfed. I don’t know which dogs are coming by to eat the food I put out, but all of them can use it so it doesn’t matter.
I’ve adjusted my customer-service expectations down, down, down. Things go wrong in Honduras on a regular basis. Resistance is futile.
Power goes out randomly, sometimes for hours. Bank machine says it gave you $200 when it didn’t, and you know you’ll never see it again. You pay for two gigabytes on your Internet modem and it runs out in two days, which is not possible but it doesn’t matter. Giant manhole cover collapses in your street and leaves a gaping hole big enough for cars to fall into, and three weeks later the hole’s still there.
You buy the wrong cord for your computer and the store refuses to take it back, receipt or not. People you work for tell you to put together a one-hour PowerPoint presentation for a big meeting and then forget all about you. Your cellphone stops working because the company wants you to text them your identity number, but you don’t have one because you’re not Honduran.
And yeah, at times it’s all just a little too much. But I can roll with it.