Monthly Archives: May 2011

Bus Mayhem & Videos

Dear all

Last Thursday I had yet another frightening experience involving thieves on buses in more or less exactly the same place as I had problems before: Hospital Escuela. I was going to meet my friend Danny in a shopping centre called Plaza Miraflores (The “Look! Flowers Place”, as I like to call it – it’s a translation joke, don’t pay any attention). I was sat on the left hand-side of the bus minding my own business when people on the right-hand side started peering out the window and pointing at something. I couldn’t quite see what. I was over-hearing dreaded words like “asalto” and “muertes”. All of sudden, five men brandishing pistols and rifles got on the bus at the back door. I was sat at the middle of the bus. The gang then started pointing the guns at two men. The whole bus went absolutely mad, running to the front of the bus. Very suspiciously, the bus driver had closed the door so nobody could get off. The uproar was frightening, the screams and shouting were people very, very afraid for their lives. The guys with the guns were quite obviously Maras. I thought they might open-fire from the racket the people were making because there was a lot of confusion about what to do (especially from me) as we were all trapped. I was a bit dumbstruck from seeing guns being thrown around too. Then two men at the front of the bus started kicking the door in. Everyone scrambled out quickly, in a lot of shock. The bus driver was being punched and smacked by people as we got off. I too shouted “Hijo de Puta” in his face. The Maras did nothing to stop us getting off but people still ducked when they got out as the drove on in case the gang shot bullets out of the window. There were still two people on the bus. I hate to think what happened to them. I felt cowardly for not helping them and I still do, but, in a moment of panic, what do you do in a situation like that. I had to get another bus to go to Miraflores and I promise myself this will be the last bus I catch here. The novelty of riding the mad buses has worn off. I don’t want to be in a situation like that again.

When I got home, the family believe the bus driver was paying war-tax to the Maras. It’s paid in return for security, but it seems the bus driver didn’t really care about the well-being of its passengers. Hospital Escuela isn’t a particularly dangerous place in Tegus, but it’s certainly got my alarm bells ringing. On Thursday I was in shock. I am a bit calmer about it now.

Yesterday I went to a Honduran wedding. It was nice enough. They were friends of the family. It was in Santa Lucia in a nice house with some nice scenic views. However, it was freezing. Santa Lucia is quite high up, so one should expect slightly chilly weather. But the downfall was incredible. There have been lots of showers here recently. The was a canopy being punished by the weather and very few people sat under it. The reception started off with nice music, like merengue and salsa, which got me on the dance floor. But my hatred of reggaeton came roaring back (well, it was just lying dormant for a while). It was played for an hour or so, and then the family decided they’d had enough so we left. They hate reggaeton too. It was made worse when ten-year-old girls were dancing, well, not how ten-year old girls should dance at weddings. It was nice to take advantage of the champagne and the cake was lovely. I passed on best wishes to the newly weds and went home too. I was going to take lots of artistic pictures of the wedding, but I got bored and gave up. The weather, and no pun intended, was a dampener. I felt sorry for the happy couple, or wet couple. I did get this picture of the cake though (see below). It was a great way to end the day after watching Manchester United get battered by Barca.

Also, yesterday, there was an event that has caused some joy in some and worry in others. Zelaya, who was ousted in a military coup a little short of two years ago, returned to Honduras. There was a big party at the airport as he touched down and, I remember one little boy on the tele shouting random things down the microphone while he was on stage. He had an Olancho accent, which is Zelaya is from, and I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. And from looking at the faces of the crowd in front of him, neither could they. It was quite funny to see nonetheless.

Carlos, the father I live with now, is a “self-confessed” web-boy and he makes videos for a living. One of them is Pulapanzak, which is where I went for a rave a month or two ago. It has nice calming waterfalls and music which is very theraputic for me after last week’s bus experience. There are also other videos of his included.



Nueva Esperanza – Hope in Honduras

Dear all

Just a very quick update to tell you about Hope in Honduras, who my friend works for. Helen Ward originally came to Honduras as a volunteer like myself, but loved it so much, and the fact that the organisation saw how passionate she was, they asked her to return. She jumped at the chance.

The organisation is connected with a church in a very poor neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa called Reparto. It is essentially a day-care centre but goes beyond it’s name by giving food, care and education to children who live very much on the edge of society, a lot like kids in Casa Alianza. They usually come from single parent families who struggle to care for the child with the little they earn. They also have to live amongst the Maras gangs. The day-care centre offers exactly what the centre calls itself in Spanish, “New Hope”.

I went by and did a talk with Helen about street kids in Casa Alianza, and also around the world, and their perceptions of what a street kid was. They were very bright and were lots of fun. They have schemes where people can sponsor a child and help them pay for a scholarship to get a formal education in Honduras. They do formal classes for the children to give them essential skills, and Helen herself teaches English. There is also a canteen. The kids are quite similar too those in Casa Alianza in that they always want to meet people new and ask questions about who you are and what you like to do. It was a project that I was very, very impressed with. Have a look at the website. There are plenty of pictures and more information about what they do. It’s also in English!

Barrios Marginales, Crazy Cyclists & Hurricane Mitch – Part Three

Dear all

To continue from the last update about Hurricane Mitch, I have heard a lot of people talk about how it has caused the shanty town problem to go out of control. They are commonly known as “Barrios Marginales”. There are hundreds of these neighbourhoods around the main cities of Honduras, formed by people from villages or the countryside. They build their houses on the edge of these neighbourhoods, sometimes on the edge of cliffs or on steep slopes out of whatever they can find. As you can imagine, it is squalor. In my first couple of days with Casa Alianza, I went to one of the neighbourhoods called Los Torres (where I saw the Maras for the first time). It was bad! We went to visit a family in their home and they were walking around in soil, living solely on what they sold in tortillas to share around the six in the family. We went to meet the family because we were concerned that the daughter wasn’t going to
school. It turned out that they didn’t have enough money to pay for her bus fare – three lempiras (10p). I’ve been told that, even though Los Torres is bad, it’s not the worst.

I have been told that the shanty-towns have grown rapidly since Hurricane Mitch and they keep sprawling out into rural land on the outskirts of cities. Homes were destroyed and the land had been made infertile due to flooding from the hurricane, so the “campesinos” felt they had little choice but to move to the city. The first big wave came and they arrived at shanty-towns already formed before Hurricane Mitch. Since then, it has been a constant trend. Not because of hurricanes, but the need to find work. This has become a constant trend. You cannot blame the people from the country either, living in poverty day after day; they are the poorest people in Honduras many people say. I have interviewed kids at Casa Alianza who lived in places like Morazan in Yoro (in the north), who were sent to work for the family at the age of nine. They worked cutting crops in the fields for an average of 100 lempiras a day (3
pounds, 10 pence), working from six in the morning to six in the evening. One girl I spoke to earned only 30 lemps (1 pound). They had massive scars on their body from where they cut themselves with machetes and they would return home itching with garrapatas (and my God, do they itch!!!) and mites. Their bosses then sprinkle a bit of water over the wound, put on a bandage and send them back to work. There are no doctors close by anyway. They would have to travel for miles to find work too, and it could be seasonal or not available at all. Illiteracy is rife and, like I stated in the update about vigilantes taking law into their own hands, horrific crimes are common. Education; lucky if you live near enough a sizable town. Otherwise, kids are expected to work, like the kids I interviewed. There are no hospitals, so women are forced to give birth at home, often ending in death for the baby, as well as the mother. You can’t blame the people for wanting to live in the city where there might be more opportunities to work.

Unfortunately, there isn’t! Once they arrive in “los barrios”, they then face a whole new heap of problems. The main one, the poison ivy that is ‘the Maras’. The gangs run the shanty towns – police are targets if they enter. They’re not paid high enough to make them want to risk their life. The migrants often become targets for the Maras, either as new recruits or extortion. They are promised money, clothes and security, in return for drug-running or killing. If you have lived in poverty all your life and you’re asked to commit a crime for a lot of money, knowing you would probably get away with it, you might be tempted to do it, mightn’t you? It is a vicious circle.

However, I don’t want to paint every “barrio” with the same brush. Some of the neighbourhoods are better than others and not all people, whether they are country migrants or city folk, are connected to the Maras who live there. They keep themselves disconnected and do their best to ignore them. Also, “barrios” like Villa Orient (outside Tegus on the way to Tatumbla) is peaceful and free from Maras, so I’ve been told.

You might remember that in one of my blog updates about Utila, I talked about wanting to take a picture of Comayaguela and it’s sprawling shanty towns, near the stadium as there was a great vantage point, but I was afraid of losing my camera and my life. Well, on the way back to the house on Sunday, the family stopped off in the car near a “barrio marginal”. From the safe confines of the car, I was able to take snaps of the neighbourhood which I can’t remember the name of, but I’ve been told not to
enter it all the same; it is one of the worst. Without wanting to scare my parents either, it’s only five minutes (by car) from where I’m currently living. Here they are anyway.

As for Casa Alianza, the book is going slowly. I went to another home last week called La Finca, which is outside Tegucigalpa and going towards where I was in San Francisco de Soroguara at the weekend. Many of the kids who are there now have been at Casa Alianza. It was started by a German family and helps children who are, there’s no other better way to say it, deeply troubled. It’s more of a recuperation centre and it has many more outside activities for the kids to do. It was nice for me to see some of the kids, who like I said, have been at Casa Alianza. It was also an activity day for the kids at Casa Alianza to blow off some steam. There were football games and dance offs. I took some pictures but I am waiting for the final okay from Casa Alianza to see if I can put them on the blog. Because some of them have had connections with gangs, it
might be putting them in harms way. The pictures were great though, and will last with me forever.

In the next update, I will talk about my friend Helen Ward, who is a former ICYE volunteer and now a fully paid member of staff at a day carecentre in the neighbourhood Reparto Por Bajo (very poor and quite dangerous, as I found out when I got there). There might be a chance for you to sponsor a child to go to school. When I get more details, I’ll let you know.

Thanks for reading.

Barrios Marginales, Crazy Cyclists & Hurricane Mitch – Part Two

Dear all

This is part two of the current chain of updates. Some of it is going from memory from what I wrote earlier.

Carrying on with the journey home from San Francisco de Soroguara on Sunday afternoon, Rossy, the mother, pointed out the townships that were built by the Honduran Government in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, for the poor people who lost their homes in Tegucigalpa. Many of those people lived by the Río Choluteca in shanty towns, or had their cliff-top houses collapse in the landslides. The townships are scattered around on the wide plains between Tegucigalpa and Valle de Zamberano, and from what people have told me, are quite dangerous. Then again, if you do get used to hearing that in Honduras. “¡Cuidado ahí! ¡Es muy peligroso!” (“Be careful
there. It’s very dangerous”). I have already mentioned Hurricane Mitch in an earlier update, but because of the devastation it caused and the knock on effect for the years to come, it’s worth more than mention. I couldn’t remember it featuring too much in the British news but, then again, I was only 18 had my head stuck in my computer game world. I have spoken to people from work what they remembered of it, as well as the family. Below are the townships anyway.

It happened in late October 1998 and there was torrential rain for three days none stop, as Rossy tells me. They had predicted the hurricane and people who lived on the Bay Islands were evacuated. It was expected to attack only the northern coastal areas. Unfortunately it swooped inland. I gave people very little time to prepare. Of course, the people affected the worst were the poor. By the rivers, as stated above, were the poorest shanty towns. I was talking to colleagues from Casa Alianza who remember it well (wouldn’t you?). Casa Alianza was flooded and the kids had to be evacuated to a school elsewhere in the city. Staff had to hold their noses while going into work the following days because of the smell of dead bodies rotting under damaged buildings or being caught in debris in the river. Bridges were wiped out so people living in Comayaguela were stranded. Emergency services couldn’t get anywhere, due to the destruction of the bridges. People went without clean water and food for weeks, especially the poor, who many starved to death.

Puente Bayle after Hurrican Mitch

From Wikipedia, it figures state that 14,600 people died in Honduras alone, causing $3.8 billion of damage. This is crippling for a developing country. The UN believe Hurricane Mitch alone threw Honduras 20 years back in time in respect to their development goals. Honduras was the worst affected, but Nicaragua suffered significant damage too. You can still see damaged buildings around the city where houses were left unlivable due to flooding. And when I go to work every morning and I cross the Puente de Chile bridge that separates Cerro Grande from Barrio Bajo in Central Tegus, I see the Puente Bayle 1/4 mile down the river in as much ruins as it is in the photo above. Puente de Chile was also destroyed, but it was restored as a generous donation by the Japanese Government.

I’m now going to leave you with two videos about Hurricane Mitch and the destruction that followed. In the next update, I will concentrate on “Barrios Marginales” – the shanty towns!

“Barrios Marginales”, crazy cyclists & Hurricane Mitch – Part One

Dear all

WordPress has been very, very cruel to me yet again. I have spent the whole night tying this update and it has lost massive amounts of work I have done when I tried to publish it. I am having to do it in parts yet again, like I did for Utila. Apologies. As for Mr WordPress, I think you’re a dick!

Before I start this, I must state that I am currently scoffing banana crisps with chilli sauce. They’re bloody lovely and deserve a worthy mention in my blog. Well done banana crisp makers. You’ve made a gringo happy.

The way back from San Francisco de Soroguara was an interesting journey. Road transport is dangerous enough here in Honduras. Cyclists have taken it to a whole new level of stupidity where they have, in my mind, ripped off one of my favourite fictional characters of all time, Marty McFly. People from my generation should remember (if not, you deserve a kick in the ribs) the second scene in Back to the Future where Marty is hanging on to the back of a car while on his skateboard listening to The Power of Love by Huey Lewis & The News. However, I think Michael J Fox was a bit more wise than his Honduran counterparts who grip on to fast-moving lorries on very, very, very badly tarmaced roads while on their rickety bicycles. It was enjoyable to watch nonetheless. It only seems fitting that I include pictures of this lunacy, as well as the video from Huey Lewis & The News, who shares the same name as my cat by the way. You can play the music and look at the photos and maybe you’ll get the same rush (I doubt it though, unless you’re on drugs.)

The Vigilantes of San Francisco de Soroguara (and cows on the football pitch)

Dear all

I am writing this post in a slightly sombre mood. That is a big fat lie. I’m miserable. I have been hiding away in the family retreat in San Francisco de Soroguara which is in Valle de Zamberano, north-west of Tegucigalpa over the weekend. Hiding away from what, you ask? Well, I’m a Birmingham City FC fan and yesterday we were relegated from the Premier League. It is the third time in five or six years so I should be used to it. I feared the worst, but that does not make it any easier. I don’t want to make this blog into a football debate site, but I feel a rage coming on.

Thanks to the Sky Sports and BBC websites, in the last few months I have been reading the match reviews and it seems Birmingham have been getting worse and worse. They have been losing to teams who I thought were far below them in quality, but I was obviously very, very wrong. Birmingham seemed to have fallen to pieces after winning their first serious cup in 48 years in February. How a team can fall apart like this is, well, disasterous, but you can’t expect much else being a Blues fan. It’s painful. The worst thing is that, from listening to pundits and seeing the stats, it’s completely deserved. They have scored less goals, used defensive tactics while still conceded goals, and they have been the most boring team in the league for far too long. Long ball tactics makes me want to puke. I have heard excuses about injuries, but when I look at the actual squad Birmingham have, it’s very drab, with less pedigree found in Pedigree Chum. McCleish has been buying Villa rejects and old men since the start, while not even trying some of the players further down the squad list. The only good quality buys were Foster, Johnson and Dann, who will probably leave now anyway.

We won’t be getting much sympathy from the neutrals, and especially not from near neighbours. Bar Walsall and Coventry, we’re officially the worst professional team in the West Midlands. To be called worse than Wolves really hurts. Villa, well, that always hurts. West Brom play attractive football, so that’s not quite as bad. They deserve praise. But Birmingham deserve their praise too: zero, nada, zilch. For your club to bear the name of your city and play as pathetically as that, in games you need to be attacking, it’s a disaster, especially when you see the Manchesters, the Liverpools, the Barcelonas, the Madrids doing so well, playing for the city as well as their club. I hope some bright spark at Blues can bring in someone new, who likes goals to be scored, who has passion and drive and winning spirit. Apart from a couple of cup triumphs here and there, Blues have never had it. Excuses that Birmingham is a small club are nonsense. It’s the second city and has a huge fan base. However, like FIFA, I think Blues need a clean sweep. Sorry Mr McCleish. I was once a fan. I’m not anymore.

By the way, if Jonathan Hurtault (our favourite man in Preston, Lancashire, UK) is reading this, who is an Arsenal fan and whom I laughed at very publicly on Facebook after the Carling Cup Final, I bet you must be wetting yourself at my bad karma right now. It’s bitten me on the arse and there’s salt on the wound put their by a cheeky Gunner. I am learning some of the basic lessons of life out here in Honduras: be a good winner, don’t speak to your friends like a part, and really, just to think before you speak!! I hope you’re alright anyway matey!

My rant is over. I am sorry about that if you do not care about football. Being a Blues and England fan, I think it’s about time that I changed sports completely and take an interest in rowing because UK is always guaranteed gold at the Olympics for that. Saying that, I have probably now just tempted fate and in the next Olympics they’ll probably get a hole in the boat or one of them will lose an oar. I am a bad luck omen. I might support France instead so I completely naff up their team. To carry on with the subject of football, while I was in San Francisco de Soroguara, the thoughts of the game hadn’t really left my conscience (I couldn’t check the result: no internet in the house – the game had happened seven hours ago at this point) and God definitely wasn’t going to let me forget about the so-called “beautiful game”. While on a little stroll through the small town, Diego and me came across a game of football between teams from El Paraiso and Tegucigalpa. I found it strange that they were playing it here because it was in the middle of nowhere and wasn’t close to neither El Paraiso or Tegus. It was like going to watch my old team Moor Green (which became victim of an arson attack when someone burned down their old beautiful Victorian wooden stand a few years back. They then joined with their old arch-enemy Solihull Borough, and they are now called Solihull Moors. Moor Green have won the amateur European Cup in the 1920s-30s. This is the God honest truth. I have been on Google to find pictures but I can’t see any. But honestly, they did!). This ground didn’t have stands though, but it was the same type of football being played with plenty of sitters that were put in the trees behind. If anything, it was more so for the grizzly weather. We were quite high up in the mountains so it felt like watching a Highland game than Moor Green, to be fair. One team was wearing old black and white Juventus shirts (although one cheeky Honduran Toon army fan had managed to enter the pitch wearing a 1990s Newcastle shirt with Shearers name on the back) and the other team wore Real Madrid shirts. I can’t remember the proper names of the teams. My favourite part wasn’t when a defender elbowed an opposing striker in the face (which didn’t get him a red card), but when a cow walked on to the pitch and had to be chased off. She was stubborn though. Stray dogs had to be chased off too.

Unfortunately I wasn’t  fast enough with my camera to get the pictures of the cow but I assure you it was funny.

After the football, we continued our walk around San Francisco de Soroguara with the family who look after Diego’s parents house, and they were casually talking about the gossip in the town in the last couple of weeks. One piece of news (it’s not the first time I’ve heard something like this in Honduras either) was quite disturbing. In fact, let me change that “quite” to “very”. Two weeks ago, news was going around that there were some drug dealers (“nacos” in Spanish). Apart from a couple of soldiers who guard the roads at the entrance of the town to stop forest fires, there is no official police presence to observe the law and protect the citizens (as if the police here do that anyway!!). So the towns people took the law into their own hands, rounded up the six accused men (without much of a trial) and shot them dead. Everybody knows who did it but no one cares. That’s the way things are done here. The lad who told me said it was a simple case of the town protecting it’s children. I haven’t really made up my mind what I think about this. Murdering people is extreme, but when there is no law and order practiced, what kind of education or way of thinking can you expect them to have (without wanting to seem patronising)? Drug dealers here carry machine guns and pratice extortion. If you’re not protected by the Government, what do you do? There was something incredibly “Hot Fuzz” about it. Thank God it wasn’t like this in Tatumbla. Or maybe it was but the family didn’t tell me?

There were beautiful green landscapes everywhere, chickens running around and cows blocking roads, in very humid weather. It’s winter time here, but all that means is that there’s a shower here and there and frightening bolts of lighting in the night sky that makes the dogs howl for hours.

One thing that did catch my eye was the cemetery that sat on a small hillside in the town. The poor bury their loved ones there, with crucifixes made out of twigs and other pieces of wood. I really liked it. It looked artistic or bohemian. I don’t know how bad that sounds, but it made their final resting place seem colourful and peaceful, rather than grey and drab like cemeteries back in England. These cemeteries are very common out here in Honduras. On the way to Soroguara in the car I saw a few graves on cliff-tops.

Earlier in the day, we lazed in hammocks in the safe confines of Villa Rossy (Rossy is the mother remember), enjoying the beautiful landscapes and the sound of thunder and the pitter-patter of rain, along with the jazz music on the stereo in the background. Carlos, the father, calls it “God’s place”. I can certainly see what he means because it is so peaceful.

I am now going to include music from Chris Botti, whom I was listening to yesterday while enjoying some of the landscapes below. I will then write a part two to this update with a couple of images of “barrios marginales” (shanty towns) and information on other things that happened in the past week.

Blue blood, How Can I Love You More & settling in

Hi all

Yesterday, Motagua beat Olimpia to become the champions of Honduras. As I have been to a game and the family I live with now, as well as the family I lived with before, support Motagua, I’ve decided to support Olimpia. A joke. As I stated in my last blog update, hardcore supporter groups of both teams have given me gifts that should leave me torn. However, I have chosen Motagua as my team although my loyalty may change if faced by the Olimpia Ultra Fiel thugs. They play in blue, like Birmingham City, but unlike Birmingham City, they are not regularly relegated. On the same day that Motagua beat Olimpia 3-1, Birmingham plunged themselves into trouble by losing 2-0 to Fulham at home. This leaves them in a very precarious position which is very likely to see them get relegated next weekend. They have to beat Tottenham by a better margin than Blackpool or Wigan. They have to do it at White Hart Lane too.

2-0 to Fulham? Really?

What’s worse is that Wilson Palacios, the Honduran midfielder, plays for Spurs. He also used to play for Olimpia, so those bleedin’ Olimpistas might get their revenge yet. Sangre azul (blue blood), indeed, carries a bi-polar gene. I can’t believe that Birmingham also won the Carling Cup this year. How quick times can change!

I’m still settling into the new surroundings that is Cerro Grande. It is more dodgy here but I was prepared for that. I’m not sure I will ever become accustomed to the neighbours playing karaoke at 9am on Sunday morning. It’s very uncalled for. The son Diego is very good. He’s making sure I stay safe and I get to places okay. It’s endearing, and like the Padgett’s, the family is very hospitable. The danger element is very much on my mind at the moment. The taxi’s drop me off in a slightly shady place in Central Tegus, and I can feel eyes upon me when I walk down the street which can feel, as you can imagine, a bit uncomfortable. It’s definitely different to Tatumbla. There are some great views over Tegus when going in and out of the city, in the day and at night, but it would be darn right idiotic to get the camera out around there.
Out of the blue, this morning while having a coffee before work, I wrote a love poem which surprised myself. It’s partly inspired by Alberto Moravia and Pablo Neruda. It’s about no one and I’m not in love, nor do I feel lonely or anything. In fact, I’m enjoying “la vida soltera” (the single life). Like I said, out of the blue.
How Can I Love You More
I see you lying there,
I thank you while you sleep,
For standing by me when I’m a mess,
And when the black dog comes for a peep.
You carry my baggage well,
And unpack it and throw it away,
You burn my threads of regret,
And allow good feelings to sway.
I hope you know I love you,
Because my feelings hide behind my tongue,
They make me sick and shudder,
And make breathing hard in my lungs.
I’m so intense that I explode,
Emotions blown in every direction,
I hate that I’m like this,
Because I just want to show you my affection.
But rest in peace babe,
I promise not to treat you bad,
I’ll never walk away from you,
And kick shit out of your demons when you’re sad.
You’re deep beneath my skin,
You have your soul wrapped around my core,
I wrap myself around your frame,
And whisper, “How can I love you more?”
As this poem is written about no one in particular, I have decided to dedicate it to all of the CARRION mascots at the Motagua-Olimpia game yesterday. They are at every football game and sway and wave for the cameras. They do, of course, are very pretty, in short-skirts may I add, and profound. It looks naff and is very machismo, but it always makes me laugh which is why I’m including a video of them to show you.