Friday, September 07, 2012
I wanna be free - or do I?
I come from a land where you get a parking ticket if your tires are deemed to be too far from the curb. For a while it was illegal to make balloon animals in downtown Victoria, and just this summer the city launched a court battle to stop a woman from taping little posters to telephone poles advertising her cleaning service.
So it has been very enlightening to move to a place where you are essentially free to do whatever you want.
The street dogs howl at midnight. The possibly deaf neighbour across the way blasts his radio into the street at 5 a.m.The sidewalk food vendors sell their wares with no fear that a health inspector will ever come by.
One day I watched a kid digging a huge hole in the asphalt road in front of his house - the main road into town - to get at a broken water pipe. Nobody blinked. You can herd your cattle along the highway, stop your car dead in the middle of a skinny side street to have a conversation with an acquaintance, and make balloon animals until your lungs burst.
There's good and bad to each approach, of course. Victoria often drove me mad with its abundance of rules and vigorous enforcement, but there are times when I do miss the poop-and-scoop bylaw now. I could probably go for a car-idling bylaw in this land where everybody just leaves their trucks to run, or an aggressive anti-litter campaign. And would it be so wrong to have a few ground rules around overly loud car stereos?
I'm very happy not to be hearing police and fire sirens around the clock anymore, as can happen in a region of 340,000 residents with six police departments, 13 fire departments and an abundance of ambulances.
But I'm sure I'd miss the friendly, competent faces of the Victoria police force in the event that a crime happened to me here. I don't even know how to call the police here in Copan. Based on the stories I've heard about police in Honduras, I'm not even sure I'd want to. (They've started doing lie-detector tests on police in the country to try to root out corruption, and 26 from the first group of 54 failed.)
I think some of us from rule-bound countries find ourselves longing for a land where you'd be free to live the life you choose, for better or worse. But it wasn't until I came to a country where that's essentially true that I started to understand what that really means.
One thing that’s clear about life without rules is that it's all or nothing. There isn't one set of rules for the "good" people and another for the "bad" - you're all just in there together doing whatever the heck you want.
In our dreams we might envisage such a world as a place where everybody would simply opt to do the right thing once there was nobody telling them what to do, as if goodness would be a natural fallback position once government got out of the way. In fact, it's everybody for themselves.
I imagine that any of the 6,000 small businesses in Tegucigalpa that have closed in recent years rather than continue paying costly bribes to scary neighbourhood toughs would be very happy to have their personal freedoms constrained in exchange for proper policing. Extortionists in that city pluck $200 a week out of the hands of hard-working bus drivers on 100 routes, which is quite a price to pay for freedom.
Here in the land of the free, you frequently hear the word impunidad – impunity, used to describe people who do as they please without fear of punishment or consequences. This morning’s newspaper brought the outrageous news of the 60 mayors, 53 vice-mayors, 410 registrars and 17 deputies of the Honduran National Congress who collect their government pay and their share of an additional $90 million a year in salaries for non-existent teaching jobs.
And if you’ve ever doubted that some people will kill with impunity in the land of the free, doubt no more. Honduras has the highest per-capita murder rate in the world, and barely 10 per cent of the crimes are solved.
I’m not saying I want to live where there’s a rule for everything and an official ready to punish you for the slightest deviation from the grid. But time spent in Honduras does tend to take some of the shine off freedom.