Monthly Archives: February 2011

Comayagua, Bachatas, The Prime Minister and a poem

Hi all

Just had a lovely relaxing weekend in a lovely city called Comayagua. It used to be the capital of Honduras, but Tegus nicked that status a couple of hundred years ago, sending this town into chaos and poverty. It is also famous because the Spanish gave Honduras a present in the shape of a clock. An Arabic one, which they probably didn’t want anyway after they expelled all the Moors from Iberia. 

There are a lot of colonial houses in Comayagua, which reminded me of Andalusia in parts, especially the main square and the gardens of a museum I went into (tourist prices 8o lempiras for tourists, 30 lempiras for locals: en serio). It was pleasant. The only problem with the town itself was there wasn’t a fat lot to do! There was a clock, a square and a rip-off museum for tourists. There was a market, that was nice, and it was far safer than San Isidro in Tegus. The views of the hills were beautiful. If there was anything I learned from the day, it was that in the last post I said that I liked Punta music. Sandy, my companion that day, informed me that it wasn’t actually Punta but Bachatas and Merengue music. He also introduced me to a Puerto Rican band called Aventura who play beautiful acoustic music. I personally had never heard of them but they seem to be quite popular. Have a look at them on You Tube. . By the way, don’t laugh too much at the tacky videos!

Shadow over the main square

Reloj - clock

Yesterday was spent with Danny Padgett, grandson of the mad granny (who on Saturday accused me of using her towel even though I wasn’t even in the house) wandering around Tatumbla and generally talking about religion, life and Tolkien. It was nice. I saw two romantic trees doing the Tango too. See below.

El Tango del árboles

Concerning Casa Alianza, today I met the Prime Minister Oscar Alvarez, although I might have spelt his surname wrong. It was his birthday and the kids put on shows and sang for him. I wasn’t actually told about this so it was quite a surprise when he came. I started interviewing some children about their pasts and how they ended up at Casa Alianza. It’s really nice to be mixing humanitarian work and journalism, as well as learning more about the kids. The stories should be going on the English speaking donor website for Casa Alianza in the next month or so. When I know the address, I’ll let you know.
 
Below is a poem a wrote  about a month ago when I was still getting used to the buses here and the coffee. Now the buses are less of a novelty, but the coffee just keeps on getting better and better.  
 
Nescafe Hondureño
 
I’ve been given a kick in the head,
The coffee beans are like bullets of lead,
Except I’m awake and ready to roll,
And join the Tatumblans on the droll.
In a yellow bus off to Tegus,
In flip-flops and my change loose,
In case a bad man comes on taking my things,
I’ll be buggered if my mobile phone rings,
I like to listen to the natter,
Amongst the bangs and clatter,
As the bus rolls down the roads of rubble,
And kids point at my blue eyes and stubble.
I feel fresh from the air of the mountains,
Even though the showers here are hardly like fountains,
But I think this feeling for the cafè.
I hate Nestle, but I love Honduras’ Nescafè!
 

Nescafè

 

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The strange toy in the last post, Picacho, Motagua, my Valentines card and a Honduran morgue

Our man in Tegus

Dear all

I must start by explaining the strange cuddly toy in the last post. It was actually a funny present from the grandma. It’s actually an ice cream with dangily legs. The grandma said they looked like my legs after a day of street football with the lads. 

Moi

There was a small tournament yesterday. You are in a pair (a bit like Wembley doubles but it’s end-to-end stuff) and you have to score two to stay on the court. I lasted three minutes each time with another volunteer who is about the same age. The kids are so skillful and fast, they were amazing; like playing against Messi and Ronaldo after ten espressos. I was left looking ridiculous. The worst thing is, I was really, really trying. Even when I tried to cheat with a bit of British hard tackling, they came right back at me and made English rugby tackles look like daisys. I am pleased to be the butt of the children’s amusement. I have no choice anyway. It is just a matter of getting through the jeers and becoming a better player. David Beckham did it. So can I. Back to the grandma, I am also putting in two pictures of a toy she has kept for years.

Profile of a bruja

It is a “bruja” – a witch in English. I am also putting in the murdered flowers. If you don’t know what I am talking about, see the last update. I have since cleared the virus from my camera card.

Dead flowers

 

Another funny thing happened last week at Casa Alianza. I had been teaching a girl (who drew a temporary tattoo on my arm) basic phrases and numbers. She kept having problems with “three” and “nine” for whatever reason. I kept my patience and we got there in the end. I was very proud of her and myself. I was soon to learn that she had no patience at all with my Spanish, whatsoever, and I have allowed a plump 13-year-old to give me a complex about my pronunciation. I told her that sometimes have problems understanding what people say, so we decided to have a break from English and she read out some Spanish phrases from a book for me to copy out. While she read them out, she would look at what I was writing and breathed very closely, and very deeply, close to the page I wa writing, scrutinising every spelling. She would then sigh, with a hint of disappointment, and yelp when I made mistakes. I was a nervous wreck by the end of it. I still think of it now and laugh. She will make a great teacher when she is older. Strict, disciplined, entertaining: but sweet all the same. She now gives me a hug every morning but gives me this hawked-eyed expression which makes me duck my head in shame and think, “I should study more.” 

Monday was 14th February and, as most of the world knows, was Valentines Day. Día de Amistad in Honduras. Like most years, I thought it would pass by without a card or even a hint of perfume, but I was wrong. The kids at Casa Alianza had a big party, tarted themselves up, and made sure that romance was definitely a Latin thing. It’s not just a romantic thing here though. It is a day to realise your friendships, and even the lads swap hugs and cards, despite the homophobic machismo ambience. It just so happens, after all the hugs I received from the girls, I received a lovely card from a young lad who I have taught the days of the week and months of the year.

Día de Amistad

 He seems insistent on missing out January and August. I told him the years will fly by a lot faster for him than everybody else if he keeps missing two months of the year, but he never got the joke. Anyway, it made my day. I then received chocolate eggs from the grandma. I have already eaten them. They were like Malteasers.

On the day of my last update, I went to Picacho which is the huge statue of Jesus that sits on a hill overlooking the city. The statue is beautiful and the gardens surrounding are tranquil, peaceful, and it feels a million miles away from Tegus, even though it has great views overlooking the city, as you can see from the picture at the top of this update. It cost under a pound to enter the park as well (I hope the National Trust is reading). It was a welcome break. The horns, yells and screams: absent. There were also fascinating pine trees (the smell of pine was so strong too) that had what looked like long vines hanging from them. I have since been told this is Spanish moss. They look like the big daft tree in the film Avatar. But they look amazing when swaying in the wind. The sound they make, as you can imagine, is quite ghostly too. 

Spanish moss covering a house

This Spanish moss hangs from everything in Tatumbla. It apparently got its name, not because the moss is actually from Spain, but because the moss is actually a hindrance, and, I am sorry to say to Spanish people reading, the see Spanish as a hindrance. Or at least they did so. By the way, this is according to the granny I live with and she is known for having a wild imagination, so all this could be a great lie.

Up on the Picacho hill is also a zoo. Like most zoos, many of the animals looked quite sad, except for a couple of monkeys which had escaped and seemed to do what the hell they liked.

Mono

One had decided to sit outside the crocodile cage to tease it, I think. I couldn’t decide if this was funny or foolish seeing the poor state of the cages. There was also stuffed animal display which was completely unnecessary. There were parts missing of each of the animals and they looked frightening unreal. 

On the way back down the hill to Tatumbla, the bus was playing a type of music that I have grown fond of, called Punta. It is from the Garífunas and is a fusion of reggae, African whistles, ska and latin rhythyms. When driving through small streets, telephone pylons going everywhere, people carrying their laundry on their heads, as it rolls over cobbled streets; the music suits the atmosphere here very well. The music is very peaceful too. It’s nice and airy.

The next day, I went to watch Motagua play. My first game in Honduras. They beat Vida, a team from La Ceiba, 2-0. It was 1st v 2nd, and Motagua were 2nd, so they are now 1st, but they are actually 2nd fiddle in Tegus to Olimipia. It was actually freezing, there was a fair bit of mist (sorry, no photos, I was told it was too unsafe, but there is a picture of the stadium taken from Picacho) and it reminded me of the days of watching Moor Green, back in Brum.

El Estadio

I hate to be rude about the football, but the amount of sitters that were smashed over the bar, I couldn’t help but laugh. Honestly, despite what I was saying above about being outplayed by kids, I am positive I could make it as a footballer here. I told my companion Roy (grandson of the granny) the meaning of, “You couldn’t score in a brothel.” It became a chant amongst a few people nearby. I have also tried to convert a few Hondurans to support Birmingham City FC, being a good Bluenose Missionary teaching them the good words from St Andrews. But like Mormonism, it’s not catching on very fast despite me informing them that Wilson Palacios used to play for Blues. They are die-hard Spurs fans (Palacios now plays for Spurs, for non-football fans).

All in all, it was a nice weekend. I thought I wasn’t going to be doing anything. I had originally planned on going to Comayagua, which was the former capital city and has the oldest clock in America, but unfortunately the guy who said he would give me a lift couldn’t make it, so hopefully we will be going this weekend. I then thought about going to Santa Lucia with my Swiss mate Marissa, but she couldn’t make it. That is also saved for another weekend.

Tuesday. After a day of Amistad, I was then shown a graver part of the job, and I apologise for the dark pun. To start off, I had a filling breakfast of Tamal (rice, spicy onions and pork in banana leaves) and atol (a drink which has cinnamon but is a cross between custard and creme anglaise) in San Isidro market. I told Granny when I got home that night and she said if I keep eating there, I will end up at the next venue where we went that morning: the morgue. I was allowed to work on the streets, but part of the job means going to the morgue each week to see if any street kids have been killed. Because many kids lose contact with their parents, if they die, their bodies often go unidentified so it is often up to Casa Alianza and similar organisations to come and check if the kids have accessed their services, and then call the parents on the morgue’s behalf. On this particular day, my colleague Evlin identified three. This is quite normal apparently. I saw pictures only. There were many more unidentified though. All of them were murdered by Las Maras. The police say one of the girls we identified was raped beforehand and was punched in the face hard. She had a huge black eye. While we were standing there, one of the families just happened to be there. It was crushing to see their son, brother, cousin or boyfriend lie in the picture without a life, his face stained with bruises, scars and blood. I cannot imagine it. The feeling of anger they must feel that Las Maras have thrown away his life needlessly, maybe over a dispute over drugs or he simply didn’t want to join the gang, and then chuck his body in a river for vultures to feed on. There was very little I could say to the family. There’s very little anyone can say. Just “lo siento”. The smell of the place was not nice. Ironically, there was no water in Tatumbla the night before so I was a bit smelly anyway. Evlin said with a guilty chuckle, “You smell worse than a morgue.” Now that is something. To smell worse than a morgue.

It was also a sad day for Honduras because there was an aeroplane crash in San Pedro Sula. Fourteen people dead.

Good news today though, a friend who sent me a load of chocolate had arrived at last. Next time I write I’ll be fat and spotty and reviewing the Clearasil in Honduras! The kids had a Tunnocks Caramel. They are now bullying me for more!


Lying bus conductor, two corrections, hard days, a cocktail named Hurricane Mitch and corruption

Hi all

First and foremost, I am sorry for the long wait for the update. It’s been almost two weeks. eek!! I have been very busy. I have been scrimping around trying to update my blog from cybercafe to cybercafe, while trying to sort out Skype to speak to my family. It is a well-known fact, Skype hates me, and I hate Skype. It’s mutual affection. I can log on, but it is not allowing me access to my contacts for whatever reason. If anyone can give me advice on this, please do, because it costs an awful amount to call any other way. I have also been busy with Casa Alianza. More about that in a bit. Also, the other day when showing the kids some pictures of snow on my camera, the card picked up a bug from the computer, so many of the pictures I have taken already are either dead or can just be seen on my camera. I am absolutely gutted about this. I had quite a few pictures to show you on this update. Due to pesky computer viruses, I have been unable to. I have since bought a new card for my camera. Some of the pictures I can retake around Tatumbla. Unfortunately, others, I cannot.

I will start where I should have finished in my post from last week, regarding a dirty lying bus conductor. A week Tuesday ago, should had been a morning like every other. I bought my little apple pastry for 4 lempiras. Brilliant. Then it came to catching the bus. The thing about Honduran buses is that it there is no clear indication where exactly the bus is going, and you have to go on what the bus conductor tells you. I asked this “quick buck” conductor if his bus going to the National Stadium (not far from Casa Alianza). His reply was “si, si, si, si”. So, on this information, I hopped on soon to find that the bus was going in a completely different direction. The one big piece of advice that ICYE gave us about security was do not go into the unknown alone. When the bus conductor came by to collect my 3 lempiras, I asked him again if it was going to the National Stadium. “Si, si, si, si” he said again, but then a nice old lady next to me broke out into an aggressive fit and started shouting at him and call him “mentioso” (liar). She also demanded that he give me my money back. He never, shrugged it off with a cocky smile on his face, and went on to the next person. Excuse my language, but he was a “pija” (find the translation in an earlier post!). In fact, the went through Comayaguela (again, the poorer, more dangerous part of the city). It is not too far from Casa Alianza either, but I have been advised not to take this route alone, even by kids at Casa Alianza! When I got there Comayaguela was it’s usual gritty self. When I hopped off, I accidentally on purpose bashed my bag against the conductor’s head, dropped all the money and everyone on the bus laughed. He was left a little more red-faced than I was. I was met by Police directly off the bus, as they had cornered off an area because there had been two murders the night before. The Police were busy asking questions and asking locals about what happened. Nobody said anything as they were too busy staring at me with a big G for gringo on my forehead. Luckily, a couple of Policemen came to my aid and escorted me out of the area. They said I shouldn’t come here, and when I said I was given misinformation by a bus conductor and I hadn’t intended to come, they asked who he was and took his description. I’ve heard the Police are usually corrupt and not to be trusted. It was nice to see these guys overturn a common stereotype. Don’t get me wrong. Corruption, as you would expect from a poor Latin American country, is rife. In every quarter, too. But more about that later. When I kicked my way through the grime across the bridge over Río Choluteca that separates Tegus and Comayaguela, it did inspire me to write the below poem. There’s also a picture with it. I had originally found a picture from the Galeria del Arte in Tegucigalpa, which portrayed the city has very Gothic (it also had Sancho and Don Quixote hidden in the corner). Unfortunately, the bug killed. The photo that is, not the painting! If you don’t like blasphemy, don’t read this (what my Mormon family will think of this, I don’t know):

El Picacho

The mist fizzles over his eyes,

With his arms open wide,

A blind man on the edge of a cliff,

While the city below rides a constant landslide.

People pray and love him,

As he preaches silent words,

The millions make what they want from his muteness,

And others write stories that are absurd.

The poor remain poor,

The rich remain rich,

Picacho

Then there’s me, a skint gringo, in the middle,

Sewn together by a different stitch.

A useless statue on a hill,

Pocketing money from foreign fools,

Like politicians using the working man’s money for personal spending,

Ignoring medication for buying his wife her jewels.

Las Maras prowl the poor,

Under The Messiah’s eyes,

They mug, they exploit, they kill,

And the country read it in trash papers while time flies.

Street food served with grubby hands,And the whiff of Resistol that kills the youth,

Killing dead cardboard out of my path,

And I barge passed another religious nut, who claims he’s speaking the truth.

Bus drivers drive through chaos theories unsolved,

The electric pylons might have a current tonight,

The streets kids might make a few more lemps through collecting bottles,

While rich gringos stay in the Marriott out of sight.

But still I like this ugly city,

Coughing through the smog filled streets,

Across the Rìo Choluteca,

And I smile at the people I meet.

I would like to make two corrections from earlier posts. I have gone away and found out that the shoe glue the kids sniff is actually called Resistol and the neighbourhood with all the bars in Tegus is called Pròsales (not Rosales or Rosario or whatever I put). I know this is not important but it has been playing on my mind for some reason.

Well, as you might have imagined from my last post, I have been faced with a “reto” (a challenge in Spanish) at Casa Alianza. I have been put in charge of teaching English, which I’m not that fond of. I have very, very basic materials. Luckily, a young man named Mario managed to find me a white board, and after the kids nicked all the pencils the other day, I have bought some more (my own cash, because my supervisor wouldn’t) and I guard them a little less naively than before. The kids have little or no grasp of English. That is fine. Lack of materials, education and ambition I was kind of expecting. However, what I was at least expecting was for the supervisor to give me at least some assistance with the time-table of the place. I have no idea which kids are in classes outside of Casa Alianza and when, or when certain activities are taking place. It is a case of turning up and finding out for myself. This makes it virtually impossible to plan the classes to a group. I had to teach the same class about eight times in the first week, then a few times in the second. I have now given up on teaching classes and I am doing more one on one tuition. Even then, very few kids seem interested in actually learning and want to know what “motherf–ker” means (thanks to bloody Reggaeton music) instead. I did a class about football terms the other day. That went down okay. Some of the children are illiterate. I have tried to put time by to help them spell their name. Unfortunately they are too ashamed, especially in front of their friends. It reminds me of the days of volunteering with Refugee Council doing ESOL classes, when confronted by a lad who couldn’t read or write in Arabic, let alone speak English. But at least there I had books and materials and other volunteers to work with. Here, it is a whiteboard, a pen and an open mind. How much they take away? No idea is the answer. If I gave them a list of profanities, I’m sure I would never hear the end of it.  Back to the supervisor though. A week Thursday ago, the supervisor confiscated the basketball and then disappeared. As soon as she went, some of the kids thought it would be funny to jump down three flights of stairs and dangle themselves over balconies. Even if you’re not afraid of heights, it was enough to make your stomach churn. I was told before I started that I might not agree or like some of the work practices of some staff. I was beginning to feel it in only my fifth day. They don’t even allow kids to use the internet. This is a basic skill that will help the children for the future. Why they are cutting avenues for them is beyond me. The kids need more to do. When boredness kicks in, from my experience, it’s when the kids kick off. I have asked if we could get a key cut for the classroom because she disappears off all the time. I was given a firm “no”. It might be my paranoia, but I think this supervisor has been at loggerheads with foreign volunteers before. She rarely smiles at me, she speaks at a speed she knows I can’t understand, and she never says “buenas días” or “adios” or a simple “¿como estas?”, even though I do to her (for current and former volunteer coordinators at the Refugee Council, for the next “working with volunteers training” you do, this information is not copyrighted so you can use it as an example as how NOT to treat volunteers). I have taken it up on myself to ask about doing different projects at Casa Alianza so I can work more with families and on the street. When I do, they respond with blank faces and “no”, as they need people in the residential programme. There are already five staff at any one time. I have let ICYE about this and told them I am not happy that I am just left to teach English, and that I have come here to learn and help in areas of their lives where they need it most, such as integration and finding new courses or avenues in their lives. If I wanted to teach English, I could have swanned off to Thailand for a year and got paid. No. That is not why I am here. They have said that they will speak to Casa Alianza about letting me do more, but they said Casa Alianza have a special programme for volunteers and the first part involves being part of the residential programme. I have not been told of this by Casa Alianza. They said that I will be doing activities the whole time and I feel a bit betrayed by one or the other, I’m unsure. I am waiting for ICYE to come back to me regarding this. Watch this space.

Regarding the funny things of Casa Alianza, the kids often call the supervisor a cockroach. I might be tempted to do the same soon. The kids are often bored in the afternoons, and I have started playing street football with them. They often outplay me completely, but it is enjoyable. I haven’t run so much since the marathon!  Sometimes it allows me to talk to the kids on a more personal basis and make friends with them, to enable them to trust adults. I have been given some startling tales of their past. A week Thursday ago, I had had enough of a couple of kids who were making rude jokes about gringos and inability of the letter R in Spanish. I flipped and lost patience with them. I told them off, watched their faces drop, but I think a lot of kids saw it, word passed around, and they learned I was a little bit more serious than they previously thought. The two kids apologised, and the next day was a treat. That Friday, for the first time in a week, the children had an afternoon out in Parque La Paz, which is near the National Stadium and has wonderful views over Tegus. I wish I had my camera on me. Then again, maybe not. I have read in books it is dangerous to go alone and I have heard from my friends, the Padgett family, that it is often darkly known as “Rapers Park”. I imagine it must have been quite a sight to see me try to guide the kids there. To teachers and managers obsessed with risk assessment, this would have been your idea of hell. The kids just legged it through traffic, laughing and skipping and not too concerned about being killed by a big yellow bus. And there was me, a white gringo, with his gringo rucksack, with his gringo shirt and gringo sweat, with a faint gringo voice in Spanish, asking them to slow down and to be careful. Suffice to say, I was ignored and often laughed at. Nonetheless, in their own chaotic idea of responsibility, the kids were trusted not to run off and they did look after each other. They also set themselves tasks to clean the place and often help cook the food, and then tidy their things away with no complaints. Maybe it is because of my own preconceived ideas about them as to why I am shocked about their willingness to do chores, but it is certainly a pleasant one and, despite the ill-discipline at times, most of them do have a lot of respect and are extremely open and frank about their lives. One girl drew a lovely flower tattoo on my arm (don’t worry mum, it’s in biro) after I taught her how to count to 100. And one lad has made me three friendship bands. He then tried to teach me. I was lost within seconds.

Regarding the grandma, I was warned about her bi-polar personality by her grandsons. I have now become accustomed to this, but it is still hard to predict her mood. Last week one morning, she was telling me about some flowers she had in a hanging basket. It was quite an occasion because they hadn’t grown in three years. I took a picture of them for her. When I came back that evening, she’s chopped all their heads off. It was a massacre. A sad and slightly disturbing one. Then night before last, she was holding the salad dressing. I offered to take them from her as she had her hands tied. She then pulled away from me with a face of ridicule and put them down on the table herself, and then starting screaming that I never tried to help her, when that I was the one thing I was trying to do. Last night, I braced myself for another chilly night in her company, but she was completely wonderful and bought me a toy.

Me, apparently

A week ago, she was showing me through a picture of her friends. She pointed at each and every one of them, saying things like: “She’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead, I didn’t like her, she’s dead, she’s alive, but I don’t like her, she’s dead….when am I to go?”  She is, as I said before, a headf–k. I have told ICYE about her behaviour. I kind of feel settled now, I have made friends with the granny’s grandsons, but it has become a pain in the backside when it comes to making plans to go out in Tegus. A good example was last Saturday night. Because of a mix up by a Honduran lad last Saturday, I was told I could stay at his, then he said I couldn’t, and then I was driven back to Tatumbla to find that granny had locked the door from the inside and I had to sleep outside in the cold. Seeing sunrise come over the mountain was pretty. But it’s hard to appreciate when you’re only wearing a shirt and you need a crap. Living this way is hard though. I like to escape Tegus’ mayhem, but it is too far. Now I have become attached to the family, it would be hard to move away. But then again, I might have to. It would be cheaper to stay in Tatumbla to be honest. Places like Prosales are expensive. I hate Prosales anyway. It is a Honduran Broad Street. A place where the youth go and get drunk and listen to American music or Reggaeton. I think I have said this in an earlier post about Prosales. You could be anywhere. It’s not Honduran. A lad said to me, “It is typically Honduran”. I argued with him about it for an hour. “It isn’t. Don’t make me lower my estimation of your culture. It’s beautiful already. You don’t need Prosales.” I can’t hear myself think in the bars. Maybe it is age! One thing that did sum up Prosales for me was the cocktail bar with stupid names (remember the “Blowjob” and “Adios Motherf–ker” cocktails I wrote about?). I walked past the bar the other night and noticed they had one named Hurrican Mitch. This cocktail, I can only imagine, is as tasteless as its name. Whoever chose to name a cocktail after something that ravaged their country, left thousands dead, even more homeless, twelve odd years ago, needs their head checked. I have heard a lot about the hardships that hurricane caused. They say that single event threw the country back 20 years. Homes were destroyed, looting took place, there was no water for weeks, no electricity for months. I was 17-18 at the time. I cannot remember too much about it in the news in the UK. Maybe it was my ignorance at the time. But I can’t help but feel that most of the world was ignorant to it as well. I might be wrong about this.

Corruption. This country is full of it. As I stated above. All quarters. “Todos lados”, as many people say here. There are several strange incidents but this first one makes my stomach turn. A politician had bought some important medicines for public service and kept them stored. He was then given a personal pay off to buy the same medicines, using public money, by a rival drugs company, which were then sold to private hospitals. He stored these drugs in the place that were supposed to be for the public, and let those drugs overrun their expiry date so they could not be used. These were drugs to be used by the poor. Drugs that they can’t afford anyway. I am told that the public hospitals have to go without many drugs. Hundreds of people die because of this each year. If the people need them: “tough! You’re not rich enough.” That is the attitude of some of the politicians. One other strange law here allows big American fast food chains, like McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts and Pizza Hut, not pay taxes. This is because they are registered as “tourist restaurants”. The franchises pay big sums of money to local politicians to sign this in their contracts. Meanwhile, actual Honduran eateries do have to pay taxes, which makes it incredibly hard for them to compete survive. Also a former government who was ousted by vote a few years ago, looted the government buildings. Cars, paintings, seats, tables, everything. Now it is clear to see why half of this country live in poverty. Corruption happens everywhere. We had “duckhouses” being bought with our money in Britain. This made me mad. Imagine what Hondurans feel when politicians starve the poor of drugs, and buy expensive houses and swish SUVs instead? The last president was a well-known coke addicts. It makes their ransoms demands on their heads quite reasonable to many!

I am currently reading “The Woman of Rome” by Alberto Moravia. I picked out a quote which pretty much summed up how I felt about my one particular day at Casa Alianza. It is a bit strong, but please try to put it into context:

“Men here have no use for goodness and innocence, and perhaps this is not the least of life’s mysteries – that the qualities praised by everyone, if which nature is so prodigal, in point of fact serve only to increase the sum of unhappiness.”

I don’t want people to think I’m unhappy. But it is hard working with some people at Casa Alianza when you know you could be doing more. However, from William Boyd, I read a book called “Dream Lover” and it had a short story named, “The Destiny of Natalie X.” The quote I’m now using as my mantra is this:

“When you find yourself in a position of normative doubt, then that is a sign to commit!”

 


Apologies, Las Maras and lying bus conductors

Dear all

I have come to realise over the last couple of days that Casa Alianza is not just the only charity acting as social services to Honduras. There are actually a lot of projects around which are just as good. There are others which care for disabled children who are forgotten or parents can’t cope, there are projects which teach children to get by who have AIDS/HIV, and there are others that help children who do not have an education but are made to work in the markets without any skills. From what people have told me, they do a great job as well. I think it was a bit disrespectful of me to say Casa Alianza acts as a social services for the whole of Honduras. It simply isn’t a fact.

Anyway, in the last update, I told you that I came face to face with Las Maras. It was not a nice experience. I was given more training in a project I would really like to get involved with in the future. The team consists of two people. One woman, in her 40s, who has a fast wit, and speaks fast, so much that I couldn’t understand her name because she said it so fast and I would feel such an idiot to ask her to tell me again (she is a cruel piss-taker too). Her colleague who I worked with more closely is called Nely. She is my age and is really cool. She’s actually indigenous and was very interested in the Refugee Council. The project involves pairing the children with their families if it is suitable to do so, or if the children pass the age of 18 and are no longer to stay in the residence. The team helps find accommodation, courses, skills, jobs, apprenticeships, activities etc, to set them up for life. It isn’t just a matter of letting them go. It also encourages the care-leavers to come back to join in with activities.  It’s a continuous process and I really liked the integration side of things. It’s frustrating at times, but rewarding all the same.

Nelly and myself took a young man out to a vocational college which helps kids gain skills in mechanics and woodwork etc. It is connected to the Catholic Church and in a rich part of town. The lad was quite funny and cheeky. He said he liked gringas. I asked him if knew any English and he said, “F–k me, bitch”. I told him he wouldn’t meet many gringas speaking like that and he laughed. He was a Manchester United fan and he was oh so quick to remind me that they beat Birmingham 5-0 a few weeks ago. But he was a decent lad. When we got to the centre, a teacher came by and asked him if he liked woodwork, and he hesitated for about five seconds before saying yes, so I wonder how long he will stick at it. I encouraged him to get a skill behind him and he seemed to listen to me a bit more, so I was quite chuffed. I was told that the lads tend to listen to men more and give them more respect, because of the macho culture.  I am a bit doubtful of the respect part, because when I asked him to make me a seat, he said “no, porque eres gordo y lo romperas” – “no, because your fat and you’ll break it”. Blighter.

In the afternoon, we made our way across to a neighbourhood in Compayguela (my spelling is as bad as my pronunciation). It is in a very poor shanty town, although I have been told it is not the worst. We went to visit a girl who had returned to her family but wasn’t coming along to activities, so it was just to check if anything was wrong. On the way there, about one hour, and this song was played on the radio three times in that hour (and on the way home to Tatumbla). It’s called “Cuando Es” and it will not leave my brain cells. I hate it. I really, really hate it.

The roads were basically derelict land and the telephone pylons had hundreds of shoes hanging from them. I have read that the shoes are thrown up there when a gang member is killed/murdered. This already made me nervous. The streets went everywhere and had no clear path and the police hadn’t been there in weeks. It was when rambling around for the girl’s abode that Las Maras saw us and were giving us very nasty looks indeed. Unfortunately, we had to walk right past them. They said something to me, which more or less meant, “Go now”, but in a more sincere manner. Once we turned the corner, Nely legged it faster than I did. Even she was scarred and she’s had more experience dealing with them in the past. It was not nice. We found the house and it was basically hanging off a cliff. The mother made tortillas and the whole family survived on just that. It turned out that the girl wasn’t attending to the activities because her mum couldn’t afford the bus fare, which is 3 lempiras a journey (10p). The floor was mud and there were smells were of the rankest sewage. I have never seen people living is such poverty. The girl, unfortunately, was in regular contact with Las Maras but we were pleased that she offered walked us back to the bus stop (we were being protected by 14 year old in a rough shanty town. Isn’t that ironic?!).  

The weekend passed by getting confused by bus maps in Tegucigalpa. I want to visit some places outside the city soon, but the bus stations are scattered around in the city. There’s not one depot in the city (so people who ‘diss Digbeth Coach Station, think yourselves lucky!). Unfortunately they’re in quite dangerous areas as well and I’ve been advised not to hang around. I am going to Compayagua (I think this is the correct spelling). It is a beautiful old Spanish colonial town, I have been told, and it has the oldest clock in America. I’m looking forward to getting away. A guy called Sandy is taking me.

Yesterday, I started teaching English. I had no books. No paper. No pencils. It’s like trying to start a fire with a blunt match.  The kids know some words, most of them vulgar, but otherwise they have no idea. In contrast, more well-off Hondurans go to American-English schools and probably speak better English than the yanks too! It was hard. I suffered yesterday. Luckily, last night, my Chapine Mormon friend came to my aid and gave me his very, very basic pronunciation guide in English. It was better today. I played hangman with them in the end and the kids seemed a bit more relaxed. It gets a bit annoying when the managers lock the doors to the rooms at random hours and then walk off so I can’t teach in the classroom. It’s so far away from CELTA (to English language teachers, they know what CELTA means). The kids refused to accept the phonetic alphabet. I had to go through letter by letter, and each pronunciation of every vowel. Patience. The magic word. They seemed to get it today. Anyway, it’s sink or swim. Today, I swam. Yesterday, I was the Titanic. Tomorrow, who knows? Will I have a boat (a metaphor for a classroom)? I have made it clear I want to do more work on the streets. They have said this is fine. I’m still learning. As for now, I must roll to catch the last bus home. Adios!

Edit: I am sorry, I forgot to add about lying bus conductors. Next time. Promise.