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):
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,
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.
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!”