After moaning about being a bit bored/homesick in my last post on Tuesday, I haven’t really stopped since then. On Tuesday night, I went out with a couple of grandsons of the grandma in Prosales (in an earlier post, I called it Rosales: my error) for a couple of coffees and a bit to eat. God saw me bored and put me in touch with some fine people, by the names of Dani and Roy, who are both my age and brothers of the two ‘chistes’ at Ari’s birthday last week, who I found funny. I had one of the famous beleadas, which is a tortilla with everything wrapped in it, from banana, to scrambled egg, to cheese, to chorizo, to coconut paste, to lettuce, to…. I can go on all day (please see this youtube link for more details ). We went to a chain which is called Coco-Baleada and I was feeling greedy so as you can imagine, I gauged myself like filthy machacho. There is an art to eating these things as well, as I found out. No knife and fork needed. You peel the tin-foil down like a banana and rip into it like an animal. I loved it. It made strange sounds in my stomach for a few days, but I’m sure I’ll be having more. I also had a drink called ‘nancie’. It was nice, but I can’t translate what fruit it is in English. When the guys tried a translation of their IPhones, it just came up with vulgar terms of gay people, which the macho Hondurans found hilarious (by the way, if you are gay and you are reading this: they’re not very open-minded here. Gay people have been known to be battered to death, and completely rejected by their families – as I’ve been finding out at Casa Alianza). On the way back that night, I saw something quite shocking. A motorbike ran a red light at a big junction we were stationed at and a big fat red Chrysler went right into him. The motorcyclist was flung a few feet up in the air and he landed, as you can imagine, with a thump. And in true Honduran spirit, he wasn’t hearing a helmet. Roy, who was driving, saw my expression, shrugged it off and said I will see a lot of that here. He also said that the cyclist shouldn’t have run a red light and he went about driving around the incident as though it were a pot-hole. Roy is quite a sensitive guy as well. As far as I could tell, the man got up after. We didn’t wait to see what the driver of the car had to say to him.
When I got back to Tatumbla, the Chapine (nickname for the people of Guatemala) missionary taught me again the way to say ‘piss off’ and, even more charmingly, ‘your mom’:
- For ‘piss off’, it involves pulling your right hand from your pocket in a ball, bring it to your mouth, kiss it and make a ‘fluffpphhh’ sound, and flap out your hand in a flash. This is all in a very quick action.
- To say ‘your mom’, you squat a little, and literally just fling out your hand vertically from your side and put on a menacing face. Either hand will do.
This was shown to me, may I repeat, by a Chapine mormon missionary. It just goes to show you should never judge a book by its cover.
The next day was my first day at Casa Alianza. To all Spanish readers, it is on Cervantes street, which brings home memories of going to Alacalá de Hernares near Madrid. It is in the main Centre area but closer to Comayagüela (the very poor sister city to Tegus – Comayagüela is proving a bit of tongue twister for me as well, and the dear old granny is doing my head in by taking the piss out of me about it, so I have resorted to calling it Coma-abuela, which means Coma Grandma, ironically). When I went to Casa Alianza few weeks ago, I found the place a bit daunting. Now I’m more accustomed to the rough and tumble of the city, it’s actually quite charming and safer than other parts (to an extent). After signing several safe-guard documents, I got to meet the children and have dinner with them. They let off an enormous cheer when they were told that I was going to teach them English and poetry. I had a tour around and the building is splendid. It used to be a college and the main living area is an old courtyard with a disused fountain in it. There’s a tranquil air to the place, which is what the kids really need after the hardships they’ve had. I was shown the dormitories. The boys live in the main building, the girls live close by. Honestly, to have them mixed would be like rabbits in the Worcestershire meadows at spring time. They are not allowed to have sexual relations of course, but one proud ‘cipote’ claimed he had five girlfriends and I didn’t trust his cheeky grin either. He laughed like Barbara Windsor too. The kids were chirpy and happy to talk to me. Not many volunteers that start can speak Spanish, so they were a little surprised I could chat with them. I was pleased I could understand most of what they were saying. Many of the kids have been relocated from other cities, like San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba, as well as from the countryside. Casa Alianza acts, almost, as a children’s social services to the whole of Honduras! It probably has a better success rate than Birmingham City Council too. Some of the kids are just born and rejected on to the streets (no insult intended, but picture Stig of the Dump) and come to Casa Alianza, some have come because of domestic abuse and they have escaped, some have been brought in by their parents because they can’t cope, others have been found when their parents have passed away, and others have been, like stated, rejected because they are gay. More than you would think too. Between races here, there is not much discrimination. But between social classes and sexuality, it’s pretty bad. Some of the kids talked quite candidly about their experiences, and I was surprised that they trusted me so quickly. I learned a new street word for something that is cool: “¡que sobado!” My mother didn’t like my four-leaf clover tattoo when she first saw it. The kids thought it was “¡que sobado!” After lunch, I sat with the kids in the computer room and faced a brace of questions which I found quite endearing, such as “what time is it in England?” “What are your family doing right now?” “Which football team do you support?” “How good are you at football?” “What’s England like?” I then sat with a small but chatty young man (obviously I can’t name him or show you a photo yet, but he was tanned, bright-eyed, missed a few teeth and had a fantastic smile). He was then determined to go through the entire computer programme ‘Encarta’, show me the pictures that represent England and ask “¿conoces?” (do you been there?) after each one. I was worn out. Anyway, the day had cheered me up after feeling ill and lonely. That afternoon, I was also cheered up from hearing Blues are going to Wembley. Thanks so much for waiting until I was half way round the world to do it!! Buggers! Does it mean Blues will be in Europe next season?
I must admit, the next morning I found living in Tatumbla really frustrating. I was asked to come in for 7:30, which meant I had to catch the earliest bus at 6:00 to ensure I beat the traffic and got there on time. Luckily I got there in good time and decided to go for a coffee. I was shocked to see that nearly the coffee houses in the central area was still closed at 7:00. I sat there thinking to myself, how does one end up at 7am in a funny little donut shop in Tegucigalpa eating a rank coconut biscuit for breakfast? Follow my lead, I thought. I do have a theory about this bloody city. If they did open the coffee houses earlier, businessmen would be tempted to start work earlier and make more money for their country. This is why the country is in so much poverty: because of the bloody coffee houses opening times. I am, of course, talking bollocks!
When I got in, I met Mellvin and Evlin, who work on the streets and tell street kids about Casa Alianza to see if they want to come. Mellvin is former street kid and drug addict himself from Comayagüela. He has a squat belly and quite hairy, as well as lairy, in his 40s, with a cool beard and a mad look in his eye. Needless to say, I get on with him well. He’s been with Casa Alianza a long time and understands the kids well. Evlin is in her 40s too, really sweet, and she’s a bit more serious than Mellvin. As they went about their work, Mellvin was the enterter, and Evlin explained what they were doing. First we went into San Isdiro market. It was like a labyrinth you’d expect in a developing country. A maze of small corridors and people walking round aimlessly. Many of these aimless people were kids who had either come to Casa Alianza but didn’t want to stay or didn’t want to go at all. They carried with them Coca-Cola bottles. I thought it was just Coca-Cola in them or had water or juice decanted into them. Evlin soon after showed me that it wasn’t a beverage at all, but shoe glue (I have forgotten the actual name of it – Rapasol or something), a solvent to keep them high. It’s a murky red and my legs almost went under after one sniff. These kids have their noses in it all day, everyday. If not their noses, their tongues, because they have lost their sense of smell. Since then, I have noticed many homeless people using it. Men take advantage of the kids by giving the solvent in baby food tubs in exchange for what favours that I wish I didn’t know. When we got to a clearing, where we saw kids rummaging through “la basura” (the rubbish), Mellvin pulled out his guitar and sang songs, and kids came running from nowhere to see him. They all knew him. I couldn’t understand what songs were about but the kids sang along happily, and I think the words were largely optimistic. It was one of those moments where I wish I could play the guitar and belt out Oasis classics. Not to be. Two kids in particular caught my attention. One kid approached and his eyes were so sunk back into his head, I didn’t know what kind of vision he had, but he was paranoid, smacking his head very hard, then bursting into songs a second later. His hair had lice running through it and he kept trying to hug us. It was really sad to pull him away. We were also near a big drop and he kept tottering back and forth. Evlin pretty much saved his life when she saw him falling back. I was told he was 16 years old. I was surprised because he very small, but also because he had the face of a 30 year old. I was also surprised that he’d lasted 16 years. The other lad who caught my attention was a lad on crutches. He was quite friendly and chatty and told me about his alcoholic parents and how he’d been chucked out by them. Because of his drug addiction, it had gone too far for Casa Alianza to do anything and he was over 18, so if Casa Alianza wanted to do something, they couldn’t. There were no services he could access. He showed me a scar on his shin from where he’d been shot for robbing.
After, we went for a proper breakfast in the market that consisted of pork, rice and onion in banana leaves. It was 15 lempiras and delicious. That’s about 60p, if that. Proper street food. My stomach is still in-tact too. The market sold everything. Turkeys and chickens were running around at my feet. I will return, with other people (not a place for a lone gringo), to buy clothes, as there were some wonderful “Ray Bens” sunglasses! I was then tapped on the shoulder by a young man, who also had the dreaded solvent, and who Evlin and Mellvin both knew. He roared hysterically at me with a huge smile on his face. He tried to intimidate me by saying, “Soy de Irak. Soy terrorista!” This, as you can see, is quite transferable into English. I could only imagine what some of my former colleagues at the Refugee Council would have thought of this young man’s views. We then went to catch the bus, but beforehand, Mellvin and Evlin went through the market picking up orange peels and apple cores because the kids will pick them off the floor and eat them. We caught the bus to Los Pinos, which is a dangerous neighbourhood that my bus passes through everyday to and from Tatumbla. I have also been warned never to go through the neighbourhood alone. While on the bus, we passed a protest march about something or other, and then I was interrogated by Mellvin. This time about prices in Britain. Random questions as well. Apples. Potatoes. Cakes. Cars. Pears. Sand. Cement. Soft drugs. Hard drugs. Transport. Baby food. It always ended with: “Sí, Inglaterra es mas caro que aquí”, “yes, England is more expensive than here. Honestly, it was like the day before with the little boy. It wore me out. He then wanted to know if I knew UB40, which came on during our bus ride on the radio. It did bring a smile to my face, listening to “Kingston Town”, a song written by a group just down the road from where I’m from. They’re very famous here. It was a welcome change after listening to Reggaeton or Shakira’s new song, Loca Con Mi Tigre everywhere we go. Then again, I won’t lie, the video is great!
We got to Los Pinos and walked along a dusty main road in the scorching heat. As you can imagine from the name Los Pinos, the neighbourhood was actually once a pine tree forest. The “barrio” now stretches up precarious cliffs, and houses are made out of whatever the inhabitants can find. It is a proper shanty town you see in Hollywood. Obviously, the reality is worse. Another Mellvin questionnaire commenced: “Is there a desert in England?” No. “Is it cold in England?” Yes. “Is there a jungle in England?” Yes, the Black Country. I think I lost him on that! It took my mind off the poverty anyway. We came across a group of seven or eight children between the ages of seven to fourteen with large machetes who cutting down plants and small trees for wood, and collecting plastic from skips in return for money. Mellvin approached them with ease. We then sat down on cardboard and made bracelets with them, that they could sell on in the markets. They’re Spanish was really hard to understand but I could see they were sharp and smart. Mellvin was trying to persuade them to come to Casa Alianza but they were adamant that they didn’t want to. It turned out that violent Las Maras gangs had already spoken to them and brain-washed them that Casa Alianza was connected with the Police, and going to Casa Alianza was an uncool and “unwise” move to make. When kids that age cannot trust anyone but these murderous individuals who exploit them and use them for drug runs, there’s nothing else to feel but sadness and anger. The low-values towards life and the selfishness of certain people. I, in turn, can assure you that Casa Alianza is not connected to the Police, unless a child is in deep trouble and needs help. But not even the Police will go near these neighbourhoods to help kids. It’s a no go zone for the boys in blue. We could only go home with a feeling of helplessness. It was disheartening.
I would like to write more, but it’s warm outside, I’m hungry and my arse has gone numb on this chair. Also, this internet cafe is eating at my money. Yesterday was also interesting. I will update a bit more on what happened the next time. A bit more optimistic, but it did see me coming face to face with a Las Maras gang member, who was out to intimidate. I am fine though. And I can promise everyone that this won’t be the main part of the volunteering. Candida, the lovely lady I report to, is just showing me the different projects at Casa Alianza. I will be based mostly in the safe surroundings of the Centre, unless I choose to do more outside work. So mum, don’t worry!! I won’t go out alone.
To people who donated a lot of money to be here, I would like to thank you. I am having an education here like no other. I am learning everyday, and enjoying it. There will be hard days, like Thursday, and happy days, like Wednesday. It’s part of the parcel.
But again. Thank you.