The Caravan of Central American Immigrants

Dear readers,

It’s hit the international headlines in the last week or so, creating quite a polemic divide of opinions. In short, around three thousand Hondurans grouped together to join a caravan which swiftly grew with momentum in the hope of reaching USA, which I believe has since risen to somewhere around seven thousand with many Guatemalans and El Salvadorans joining, as well as a fair few Nicaraguans considering the recent troubles there. The media has been following its progress, capturing the imagination of millions throughout the region, while also becoming a political debate with national leaders Donald Trump, Juan Orlando Hernández, Jimmy Morales and Andrés Manuel López Obrador all having a say on the matter, with varying levels of emotion and reaction.

The last I read, the caravan was entering Mexico, where many Hondurans were reckoning the journey might end, as it does for hundreds of thousands of other Central American immigrants traveling alone. As far as I know, different parts of Mexico have varying reactions to immigrants, especially those traveling upon la bestia, also known as The Train of Death, something I have written about before (one should watch Which Way Home to understand more about the journey). Some Mexicans are very accommodating, providing food, lodging and medical care; some are hostile, throwing stones and rocks; while closer to the Mexican/US border, it becomes downright dangerous with street gangs, bandits and narco groups becoming a life threatening. But all along the Mexican leg of the journey, the authorities, which deported children in Casa Alianza told me, are mercilessly tough.

You can understand why Hondurans were worried/raised doubts about their fellow countrymen on this part of their journey.

To those who have read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know immigration is a very personal topic for me. Working at the Refugee Council in the UK brought me into contact with many people from different nations who had suffered tragedy in their native lands, as well as en route. Many came with trauma, mental scarring and horrendous injuries, many times through torture. I always admired their perseverance and persistence to keep going, using their resources to try and build new lives while trying to survive amid the hostility, immigration red tape, natural elements and cultural shocks, so vastly different from what they’re accustomed to. Working with kids in Casa Alianza also raised my awareness of the hardships of living in poverty, with little hope and opportunity and just living to survive, watching their friends and families suffer around them, living on barely livable income while the threat of violence lies very, very close to home. In the meantime, the sueño Americano lies 3,000 miles up north, where a family member might live, while every day seeing images of the American lifestyle, of luxury and opportunity, earning a wage five times greater than what you’re earning for doing pretty much the same thing, or at least, something similar. Tell me, would you risk everything, when what you have is very little, and in so many cases, life threatening?

Lastly, I too am an immigrant. I’m a white middle-class British version, where the same rules don’t apply, who just has to negotiate lawyer fees and mind-numbing paperwork than with aggressive border officials and coyetes. Unjust? I regret to say yes it is. Yet I comprehend the emotional turmoil one feels of leaving everything you know behind; be it friends, family and cultural norms. It leaves a lot more than a lump in your throat every time you have to say goodbye at airport departure lounges or missing a birthday, a Christmas, a wedding or a funeral back home, especially when you don’t have the economic resources to return as frequently as you’d like. I can only imagine it’s more difficult for less affluent immigrants who come from Latin American families where the family nucleus is even more bonded through the Catholic or Christian faith, but also having less access to technological means such as Skype.

Now, back to the caravan.

In recent years, in Europe we’ve seen an exoduses of people leaving Syria and other places of conflict in search of safety in Western Europe. The right wing have used these images to spread panic and fear throughout the masses, dehumanizing refugees by labelling them swarms as though they were locusts, which unfortunately much has come from the British media. This in turn has seen a rise of far right groups, which it seems to me has crept into the minds of the majority especially with the mistrust of immigrants and questions of how to control the borders with even tighter measures, using the rhetoric, “There’s too many of them [foreigners]”. At the same time, Donald Trump has come to power using a similar rhetoric but more in the form of “Make America Great Again”, with the promise of building walls while also implementing legislation to make remittances more costly and dismantling the TPS and DACA, making life for immigrants especially from this part of the world already living in the US that much harder. I can only imagine that images of the caravan, of seven thousand tired immigrants making their way to the US, has only added fuel to the fire amongst certain groups. This, from the second the caravan left, was always going to be politicized, even by myself. The human suffering is demoted to second or third point in the list of concerns, and that to me is very disappointing, but I guess it represents today’s values.

Of course, as hinted above, Trump has had his say on Twitter, threatening to cut aid if Honduran authorities don’t dismantle the caravan. This prompted the Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, to ask the immigrants to return. This, as anyone can imagine, has brought a furious reaction amongst millions of Hondurans claiming he’s being bossed around by his US daddy instead of supporting the people he represents. It’s the world’s worst kept secret that the US backs Juan Orlando, which was very evident in last year’s presidential elections, still fresh in everyone’s memory. While JOH has retained power in what many people feel was through very dubious means, his popularity and trust has taken an absolute battering, especially after even more unpopular policies with recent increases of car taxes. The term fuera JOH still sits on millions of Catracho tongues, and is by far the most used hash tag on social media, far out-weighing the opposing #vivaJOH which currently appears muted.

It has also raised questions about the level of security in Honduras. The JOH propaganda machine claim it has improved, yet thousands of Hondurans still cite violence and lack of security as their main reasons immigrating. It is very hard to judge from my middle-class Tegucigalpa bubble, but when I ask children at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, many of whom come from poor backgrounds where violence is a part of everyday life, they look at me rather bemused. Without doubt, JOH has helped topple a few high profile narco traffickers in the war against drugs, but to who’s gain? I’m no expert, but the narco trade still seems to be thriving, with Honduras still being a stop off for drugs point en route to more affluent lands. The US has provided the JOH administration with millions of dollars to train military and improve security, but has this improved the lives of everyday Hondurans? I write with raised eyebrows.

Sure, there have been efforts to improve education, and USAID are trying to implement programmes in conjunction with the Honduran government that provide Hondurans with opportunities, rather than wanting to leave. In some cases, I’m sure it has worked, but I’m beginning to wonder if the US is wanting better results, without this exodus of Hondurans, or whether it actually cares, and that their meddling in Honduras is just to prop up JOH for their own interests, so a left wing regime doesn’t come in and dismantle billions of dollars and years of US investment in the country, unlike failed projects in Venezuela and Nicaragua, where we can all see the greed of power between the left and right has left the people and the country in a state of disaster, almost civil war. My opinion swings like a pendulum on this matter.

The left wing party LIBRE has publicly backed the caravan, which I’m also very skeptical about. Is it for popularity, sniffing out an opportunity to further weaken JOH’s popularity, or do they actually give a f–k? I’ve another pendulum ticking in my head (any more ticking and I’ll have to seek therapy). The mainly right-wing press have blamed former Honduran president Mel Zelaya, the main face of the LIBRE party, for creating hysteria about the caravan, while yesterday there was a march of solidarity for the immigrants in Tegucigalpa. There was some muted outrage when one of the caravan organisers was detained in Guatemala, and I believe the Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales was supporting Trump in trying to stop the caravan, although as it enters Mexico and the Guatemalan military is reportedly standing aside at roadsides, it seems to have passed with relative ease. Meanwhile, I have read that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Mexican president elect, has promised working visas, though I assume not for all seven thousand immigrants, because I imagine a fair few Mexicans might have something to say about that.

I have asked Hondurans for their individual opinions about the caravan, and bar one or two, they collectively have a strong empathy for the immigrants. However, there is a big divide of opinions in the practicality of it. Many feel that the authorities in Mexico and the US are going to be very well-prepared for such a vast amount of immigrants traveling all at once, using all sorts of military techniques to break it up and send people back, while also hoping they defy the odds and make to the US. This is echoed by US friends who work with me at NPH, who feel somewhat embarrassed by their government’s stance, but not quite agreeing with the practicality while having empathy at the same time (I’ve always said, one must separate the people from their government’s actions, whether it be a democracy or something else. It doesn’t represent the people, and I use the farce in the handling of Brexit negotiations as an example).

Other Hondurans believe that the vast amount of people might actually work in their favor in terms of strength in numbers. Would the Mexican military really take on such a large group of immigrants? What sort of global image would that give Mexico? One that attacks vulnerable people? Maybe being labelled the one tag that Mexicans hate, Malinche? (To those not in the know, Malinche was an Aztec Indian woman who is seen as supporting the Spanish conquistadors instead of her own people: a traitor so to speak. Anyone called that is seen as a Mexican, or Latino, who helps a foreign power in place of their own people). Safety in numbers is also important if confronted by gangs and bandits too. We’ll have to wait and see how the caravan reacts when it reaches the banks of the Rio Grande.

Certainly, this is a heated debate. I have laid out many opinions which you may not agree with or feel I have missed out on. Please join the debate, though do so with courtesy.

Have a nice day.


The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson – part two

Dear readers,

Finished. Quite a page-turner. And yes, I enjoyed it. I’ve never read a self-help book so fast. It’s a much easier read than the majority in the genre. It might not be the best, but it is the most original I’ve read in a long time.

As stated in part one, it’s written in a matter of fact tone, but in a chummy way, which makes the content a little bit more accessible than others. I’m OK, You’re OK, for example (I know it’s not a great comparison, as they’re from different periods and marketed to different audiences). It’s simplistic, but that’s the genius of it, as he is presenting quite deep ideas which just about anyone can grasp. Mark Manson isn’t the world’s best wordsmith, but he has communicated his thoughts and advice in a way which captures his readers’ imaginations; largely millennials who have a short attention span and are easily bored, but also disillusioned with life and need a blast of realism to get them going. You find yourself agreeing with Manson on many things, how he interprets life and how modern culture doesn’t help or motivate us in the right way, such as believing we are all entitled, chasing success, feeling good all the time, being pleasant and nice all the time, and impressing people.

I liked the idea of Disappointment Panda, telling ourselves truths that help us in the long-run, looking at our behaviour, viewing suffering as a form of education where positive change often blossoms, the deteriment of procrastination on goals we’re not committed enough to achieve, pealing away our layers to understand what our true values are, and maybe adopting new ones that are reality-based, socially constructive, immediate and controllable, in place of those that are unrealistic, self-absorbed and self-destructive.

I also like his thoughts on accepting responsibility for things that happen in our lives, regardless if it’s our fault or not, and how fixing our problems leads to happiness, confidence and empowerment, rather than avoiding them. Our problems are endless, after all, and often follow us. I like the idea of changing bad problems for better problems, as we go about solving our issues, which often change as we change throughout life. Also, if we want to improve an area of our life, for example trust in our relationships, rejecting behaviour which don’t achieve that goal i.e. don’t lie and don’t be irresponsible.

Another point I like is behaving the opposite to how everyone you know expects from you. However, I feel it should be expanded on, and state it should be within reason, especially where employment is concerned. But for the most part, if you don’t like the way the world views you, take action. If don’t like how people view you as a clown, act seriously. If you’re too agreeable, be disagreeable. People won’t like it and and it’ll take time for them to adjust, but that’s their problem.

Of course, some of these are obvious, not always realistic and a bit general. He also expresses his views through some self-indulgent storytelling about himself. Then again, write about what you know. That’s one of the number one rule for writers.

Another criticism is regarding some of the language used. It’s irritating. Not the swearing, but patronizing phrases such as “maturity (maybe you should try it some time)”. Yes, I get it; it’s with a sense of humour, sarcasm, written with attitude etc. However, from a writer’s perspective, it’s word redundancy. Unnecessary. Litter.

These are arbitrary points though. I am impacted and inspired by the book, which is rare for me with self-improvement books. I’ll remember it well.

I give this book 4.5/5.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Dear readers,

I’m half-way through, so I can’t call this a review as such. I’m relatively late to this book. I only learnt about it after seeing my wife reading it enthusiastically (who borrowed it from her sister), and the bright orange cover and charming title grabbed my imagination. I read that it was all the rage two years ago, and I think it’s still top of various rankings, especially in the self-help genre: one I touch on time to time.

Recent self-help and personal development books I’ve read have disappointed for various reasons. They give you step-by-step guides and case studies that back-up their point to changing your life, but the format seems repeated, consequently boring me to death leaving me wanting to use the book as a door-stop rather than let it fill me with bland wisdom. Many are geared towards chasing happiness, money, God, goals, the opposite sex, warding off depression or exorcising unwanted habits, with various levels of commercial success. Very deep and profound, but not always realistic and often forgettable, making it a slog to read, rather than a life-changing one.

Then comes along Mark Manson with his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. The first thing one notes is the rapid-fire use of the f-word; quite an unusual tact for a life-coach kind of person, but I guess it’s not too much of a surprise given the title of the book. No complaints, mind, as I tend to use the word rather freely myself, though the vernacular is more likely to be associated with an Irvine Welsh novel than in self-help literature. Nor is it written like academia with scientific jargon or religious in spiritual guides like many in the genre. This is an easy-read, blunt book, but stating in a rather charming and matey-like way that it’s okay to feel crap, although maybe we should take responsibility for our choices or actions, look at our values and how it affects decision-making, take action rather than avoid problems, and the detrimental effects of believing that we’re entitled. Suffering, he argues, sucks, but it is often when we learn a lot about ourselves. This I very much agree with.

Mike Manson

I must admit, some of the advice is somewhat self-indulgent, quite obvious and nothing new, based on personal experience rather than advice from a healthcare professional or so-called expert. Manson made his name as a blogger, then wrote books about dating, none of which I’ve read, which can make you question his advice to an extent. Then again, the tone and sarcasm (sometimes humorous, sometimes irritating) is very much in tune with the millenial demographic and is quite refreshing, written like a pal or a “one of us” perspective. It tells people to stop dreaming and get on with their lives: something I feel this demographic really needs. In fact, I’d go as far as saying it’s the quintessential handbook for millennials, especially as it hits on some of the criticisms associated with said generation, such as the undeserved sense of entitlement, the fast-paced culture and being spoon-fed by our folks, which is more damaging to motivation than it is any good. He also takes a pop at the mainstream thought that we’re all special and we all deserve, which in actual fact, we aren’t and don’t, and we should go about earning the respect we desire, rather than expecting it. As I said, this is quite obvious, but it is good to have it highlighted for this generation, which I’m in all purposes part of. Strictly speaking though, I was born on the cusp, although my birth date comes at the end of the Generation X bracket. So fuck you, millennials. In short, the book does speak to me, somewhat.

Another reason the book typifies the millenial era is the fact Manson wrote it in the first place. Like stated, traditionally authors of self-help books are experts and gurus in certain a field. Nowadays everyone seems to have the right to do or publish anything without the normal credentials. Technology has opened a platform for all, from the professionals to the bonkers. As long as it’s good enough and pitched well enough to sell, that’s fine. It seems Manson’s well-versed in giving life advice on his blog (follow this link), yet he has certainly become a man in demand, cutting a respected figure in this genre. I’m not sure what qualified psychologists think of the book, but Manson talking about his own vulnerabilities and mistakes, passing on some insightful wisdom what he has learnt, has hit a positive nerve with his audience.

Yes, the calm no nonsense tone is unique and certainly is a page turner which is uncommon in the genre. Yet it has made me reflect about my own choices, my reactions to events, mishaps and difficult periods in my life, how I coped, but maybe stalled too long about things. Lost opportunities, wrong decisions, relationship breakdowns; obsessing over things, my role in it and blaming other people or myself a little too much, where maybe I could have taken stock on the situation and taken positive action a little sooner. Yes, the book does make you regress, yet as Manson suggests, we should use this for personal growth than look back with regret. After all, we all have them.

As stated, I’m only half-way through and I’m enjoying it. It’s certainly had an impact and I’m going to remember it for some time. I will add the second half of this review once I’ve finished.

September 11th

Dear readers,

I just had to write the date on a document for work. It will always be attached with great human loss. I’m not from the United States, but I am from the Western world. It rattles me 17 years on. It will probably rattle me for many more.

I was 21 years old at the time. I’d just enrolled into a college and started a new job: buoyed by exciting times ahead after a particularly rough patch in my life. I can’t remember the weather that day. I think it was a Tuesday. I seem to remember wearing a jacket, but the sun was partially out, not really knowing what to do with itself; not unusual on a late summer/early autumn day in England. I had just been in the Touchwood Shopping Centre in Solihull. My objective there was to find a Best of Frank Sinatra album at a Fopp, a dream of music/DVD/book shop that sold things at prices I could afford. Any of the albums would have done. I was only after the classics, with one particular in mind: New York, New York. I’d been obsessed about going there. I still kind of am. Seeing places you’ve heard of or seen in the movies. The entertainment, the noise, the life: that buzz you can only find in a megacity. But that song. New York, New York. It always made me feel queasy that I wanted to buy that song on that day. My dance with the dark arts, so to speak

The first plane hit when I was almost at home. It was late afternoon, UK time. In front of the house, for some reason I was too damn idle to get my key out my pocket so I rang the doorbell. My mum ran to the door, visibly distressed and hurried, and I was expecting a mouthful about forgetting my key. Again.

“Have you heard the news?” she said, wide-eyed. No hellos or welcomes or kiss; very unusual for my mum.

“No. Why?”

“A plane’s just flown into the World Trade Centre in New York.”

“Anyone die?”

Before you judge me for that seemingly idiotic question (whoever said there is no such thing as stupid questions is stupid), I assumed it was a small private plane colliding into one of the towers in a tragic accident. It was hard to judge just how big the plane was she was talking about, and accidents happen everyday.

My mum looked at me as though I was saying a dark inappropriate joke, which I am prone to doing. She rolled her eyes and said, “What do you think!”

“A big plane?-” I said, dumbfounded, stepping into the hall.

“Fuck. There’s been another,” a voice bellowed through from the living room; the voice of my sister’s ex-boyfriend, at which my mum and I raced through to see the images the majority of the world was watching before its very eyes.

The living room of the home I grew up in, in Hall Green, Birmingham: that’s where I was when it happened.

You Remember

You remember where you were,

You remember what you were doing,

You saw images that you usually see in movies,

You wondered what more trouble would be brewing.

You watched the towers falling,

You still can’t grasp the consuming flames,

You were aware office workers and vendors and firemen perished at that moment,

You can still hear newscasters reading the culprit’s names.

You wondered about the dead,

You imagined what it was like on one of those planes,

You thought of the horror for their families watching,

You remember the images being an eye-strain.

You still feel a bit strange on this date,

You read it and count another year,

You find it difficult to comprehend the human loss,

You know loved ones still shed a lingering tear.

REVIEW: Paint a Vulgar Picture: Fiction Inspired by The Smiths edited by Peter Wild

Dear readers

How disappointing. Being a Smiths fan, I was highly excited to read this. I actually met a couple of the authors of the short stories a few years back in Birmingham and had my book signed personally. It was supposed to be short stories inspired by The Smiths, an 80s iconic band that spoke to many youths who felt lost or disconnected from the mass media, known for their witty, heart-felt lyrics. The idea of the book is very interesting. The result is very, very dull anthology of stories that don’t do the songs any justice.

A couple of the stories are good, such as those by Gina Ochsner and Mil Millington, which have some poignancy, but the majority are boring and bare little resemblance to the Smiths song that they were supposedly inspired from. The little intros are interesting. That’s about it. Barely any of the stories will stick in my memory.

2/5 stars: A disappointing bore. I would have given it one but a couple of the songs are very good. But I’m being generous.

The lead singer, Morrissey, has always been robust in his views on just about everything; many of his political views of which differ from mine. Despite that, I wonder what he makes of this?

Orange Street Light Glow

Dear readers,

This poem is the result of a sleepless night and an overactive imagination. I was going to call it A Lonely Night in Tegus. Let me know what you think.

Orange Street Light Glow

Orange street light glow,

Bugs flicker fast and clocks tick by slow.

A radio spittles ranchero songs

Sliding guards into a slumber

When an anonymous Sedan glides by slyly.

Under the cold stare of the stars,

A shadow stalks and a street dog scampers,

When BANG! shots thud and screams are snuffled-out,

Blood drains to nowhere from another specimen lying still,

On a lonely night in tearless Tegus,

Where everything happens but nothing’s on show,

Especially under the orange street light glow.

First Days

Dear readers,

This poem is inspired by those uplifting first chords in the song Age of Consent by New Order. The tune has a feel good factor, delivered by the rough riffs and buzzing melody. The lyrics aren’t about those first days in relationships as such, but it does skirt around the topic of love and sex and loss. It’s a beautiful song, but sad.

It’s the rhythm. It’s full of optimism. It evokes memories of the first days when we fall in love for the first time, walking in a glow of brilliance, an invincible but insecure at the same time. It’s a respite from adolescent gloom, wondering who are, what you’re doing and what you’re going to be and why you have so many zits on your face. You feel loved despite your flaws and you feel your heart will explode with joy. You’ve not learned the wisdom of being cautious.

You look back and laugh at yourself now, you’re first conquests into love, trying to figure out answers to that all important question, what is love? , as well as, when will she let me feel her tits?

You remember the details. Everything. It sticks with you. Not in chronological order. But that doesn’t matter. And this poem is about that.

First Days

Being in love for the first time,

Drunk in each others arms, asking “Wanna be mine?”

Songs on the airwaves and first movies watched together,

Thinking of her all the time: you gleam in any weather.

Kissing with squirming tongues and petting with fumbling hands,

Walking in sunshine parks and lazing in golden sands.

When do I say I love her and when will we reach third base?

Ruffled hair and a naughty look on her face.

Letters and poems and arguing about “our song”,

Buying her a teddy bear and a cheesy red thong.

First fights and love bites,

Promising the world, texting all night.

But little did you know, Cupid’s arrow would fire elsewhere,

And that first sever takes ten thousand nights to repair.

But you realise it was better to feel love than never,

And it’s those first days you remember forever.