Tag Archives: Honduras

The Caravan of Central American Immigrants

Dear readers,

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

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

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

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

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

Now, back to the caravan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a nice day.

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Orange Street Light Glow

Dear readers,

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

Orange Street Light Glow

Orange street light glow,

Bugs flicker fast and clocks tick by slow.

A radio spittles ranchero songs

Sliding guards into a slumber

When an anonymous Sedan glides by slyly.

Under the cold stare of the stars,

A shadow stalks and a street dog scampers,

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

Blood drains to nowhere from another specimen lying still,

On a lonely night in tearless Tegus,

Where everything happens but nothing’s on show,

Especially under the orange street light glow.


Tropical Aromas

Dear readers,

Honduras is going through its rainy season. I love this moment of the year. Funny, being from England. One would have thought I’ve seen enough rain for one lifetime. But this morning, on the bus to work, I had a wonderful reminder of the joys of living in a tropical climate: the flora. The rains had soaked the lands and the flowers and plants were bellowing out with aromas.

As you can expect, it’s alien and surreal to eyes from Northern Europe. Colourful and sultry leaves and petals, natural artefacts you only see in green houses in botanical gardens, and the nectars that tickle your nasel hairs and whet your appetite; that’s if you haven’t fainted already from the blasts of artificial humidity.

I want my garden to smell like this. A choir of aromas, singing in the rain. I’m often walking past gardens nicking palm nuts or using discarded mango seeds to plant things. I know people who often snap off flowers and try to use the pollens. I might start that. Sorry neighbours.

As always, it has inspired a poem. Enjoy. Make comments if you wish.

Tropical Aromas

There’s nothing quite like sweet aromas after a tropical storm;

The pines, the pollens, the sultry perfumes the plants form.

A million piece silent orchestra with the fauna in the gallery,

Noses swallow delicious scents while not adding a single calorie.

The sweetness sways in the airs before the fierce heat comes,

Like gasses of fresh juices as luscious as the ripest exotic plums.

Water droplets wet your hair while your head drifts against a pane;

You feel a million miles from home and your native freezing rain.

The electricity has gone and you don’t care when it returns;

Not bothering if your computer crashes or if your phone burns.

You’re in your own haven and wish this moment lives on,

Future worries are a laugh and past pains are bygone.

The wind is in your sails and you’ve no clue where your bus drives,

Fruits of nature resurrect your body and you’ve never felt this alive.

You have life in your lungs and happiness in the cloud’s gloom,

And rolling hills of green smother you while tropical flowers bloom.


Nostalgia

Dear readers,

It’s funny how as we get older, all memories feel like yesterday, merged into a jumbled and disordered box. Filed under happy or sad, wonderful or horrific, but rarely in chronological order as they played out. More often they come galloping through little clues. And this weekend I’ve had a few of them, randomly. Seeing a student I taught in the first couple of my seven or so years in Honduras, chatting to old friends from university online, catching up with my uncle and aunty in Skype, seeing a movie which reminded me of the neighbourhood I grew up in Birmingham and my old cat Huey, listening to the song Today by The Smashing Pumpkins which I used to put on repeat on holiday vacations to Cornwall, reading an interview in the Guardian with Irvine Welsh talking about Trainspotting impacting a generation (one of my favourite books might I add) or making a bowl of custard, reminding me of desserts after roast dinners on Sunday with the family.

I’ve always had a sweet tooth.

Why it’s come flooding back is anyone’s guess. Symbols of nostalgia. I’m content more than anything, but I believe I find it hard to put the memories in order is because life goes by so quickly. It’s true what they tell you, kids. It’s not deep or profound what I’m saying; it’s very obvious, in fact. But I feel my conscious is trying to tell me something; whether it’s to not to let life slip away, realise things I’ve learned through memories, good and bad, or get back in touch with people I haven’t spoken to in a while.

Midlife crisis? Maybe. But it’s a mellowed conflict, trying to understand my experiences and why the memories flood back over one weekend.

It’s hard to conclude, as my nostalgia is disjointed and my learning from such memories are random at best. However, I’m sharing a quote from a writer I’ve written about before on my blog, Albert Camus, to try and sum up and soothe my concoction of emotions boiling in my conscious, and gain a better understanding of deciphering nostalgic events and what I take from it.

Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.


Coffee Highs

Dear readers,

Honduran coffee, might I add, often doesn’t do half measures; when you swallow it down, it explodes your senses. It’s smooth but it smashes you, like a beautifully formented vodka from Russia. But instead of getting hammered, you fly.

So, carrying on from yesterday’s coffee high experience, here is another poem about the jittery sensations coffee gives us. Written in a bog standard Espresso Americano coffee shop in the centre of Tegucigalpa, although I haste to add the coffee quality is still miles ahead of Starbucks, albeit being a smaller portion, yet still not as good as the more specialized coffee shops throughout the country especially towards the West.

The poem might be based on reality. Then again, it might not. You decide.

Coffee Highs

Coffee highs,

Neurons fly,

Limbs jolt,

Logic thought bolts,

Heart thumps,

Adrenaline pumps,

Stand up too fast,

Blood pressure blasts,

Trip over a chair,

Coffee shop stares,

Stains on my shirt,

And a lady’s skirt,

Cup smashes to the floor,

Heading for the door,

If looks could kill,

Staring at the spill,

“It wasn’t me,

“Coffee high, you see,

“Bye,” I say,

And I run.


Ojojona, Honduran History, Espressos

Dear readers,

I spent much of the Sunday in a small town south of Tegucigalpa called Ojojona.

It’s a pleasant little place, humble, hot, with a slice of Honduran history mixed in. Spanish miners populated the town during the 16th century while searching for gold and silver in the nearby mountains. Its white-washed Spanish colonial-styled architecture and road layouts are reminiscent of towns I visited in Andalusia while living in Seville, especially Carmona, which still stands out as one of my favourite corners of the globe.

There is also a chunk of Lencan history; not just the town itself but in the nearby villages throughout the municipality. Ojojona itself means “aguas verdosas”, roughly translating as “greenish waters”. I have seen signs of a swimming spot close to the town. I’ve never found it, so I can’t confirm if the waters are green. Nonetheless, the Spanish colonists throughout the ages might well have done their best to eradicate the Lencan race and culture for something more Catholic, as they did in many towns throughout the region. The Lencan culture is still prevalent today, however, especially in Western Honduras, a fascinating part of Honduran heritage. It includes the chief Lempira whose name and face appear on the Honduran currency; very much the William Wallace of Honduras who fought bravely to defend his people from foreign invaders. As cruel irony would have it, though, Lempira ended in a similar fashion to Wallace, too.

The town is also famous for being the place that Francisco Morazan was caught. Who’s Francisco Morazan? you say. If I’m not mistaken, he tried to bind the Central American countries together in the early 19th century, to form a union or state. The Costa Ricans got all Brexit on us though, not liking the idea one bit, and shot him. Apparently Morazan died in El Salvador.

There is also business about the former President Mel Zelaya and reason the town has two churches sitting very close to each other. I don’t know the full gossip. Suffice to say, it’s all very political.

That’s your Honduran history lesson over with, but you can see how Ojojona plays a role in Honduras’s rich heritage. It is also famous for being the set for the movie Amor y Frijoles, which I’ve yet to see, although I hear it’s very good. The town is quaint, picturesque, with a tranquil moat/canal circling its way through the town with a gentle stream, a lively crafts industry which produces and sells.goods in the town. It has turned Ojojona into a tourism hub, pulling punters away from Valle de Angeles which, in my opinion, has lost a bit of magic and sells a fair amount of tack; feel free to disagree.

Back to Francisco Morazan, I ended up having an espresso in the late afternoon after having a late lunch and I needed perking up. However, the perking up has resulted in me writing this blog article. I actually had the espresso in the building where Morazan was captured. The cafe is also a mini museum, plant nursery and rabbit breeder; random niches, I agree, but it is lovely to sit there with the early evening breezes to cool you while getting high on espresso. It’s not known for espressos, in particular. There are a few corn-based beverages such as pinol and atol. Appropriate and common sense really, with corn being a locally grown crop. I was hooked on coffee though. Coffee, coffee, coffee.

Talking of espressos, I wrote a poem about them. It’s keeping me up as I write. It’s free verse. I hope you enjoy.

The Espresso

BANG; it hits you.

That shot of anxiety.

Galloping, throttling through veins,

Racing down tracks to the mechanics of your heart,

Leaving its clogs and bolts over-heating with like an un-manned locamotive.

Your blood cells rage and the adrenaline screams,

While pulsing serotonin blows open the doors to your mind, leaving your senses shaking

While every word snaps and every limb jolts.

You’re ready for everything but prepared for nothing

Once the bean beats through you, shaking you into a euphoria.

You know you won’t sleep, with every hour feeling like a decade throughout the night.

You sipped, and slipped, a slosh of mayhem.

Those beans, once green picked by worn hands in high melancholic hills

In the pounding humidity sucking every drop of energy from blooded finger-tips and sweated brows.

A genetic thread bounced down generations, carrying thoughts of humility, fed by beans and tortilla.

Polverised and crushed and slung with a swill of hot water in a tiny cup before you, sugar spashed in with your gluttony.

That bitter toxin that exploded your senses.

You ordered it, you loved it, you suffered it.

The espresso.


Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli

Dear readers,

This year I am making a conscious effort to read more books by female authors. I felt I’d subconsciously been focusing on too many male authors. I’m not sure why. By chance I found this little read on Kindle by accident about five/six months ago about a subject very close to my heart: immigrant children.

I’ve written about the topic before on my blog having worked with kids at Casa Alianza who’d tried to make it to the US, many of whom would only make it to Mexico, to get caught and sent back. Some would make it to the USA, and I know a few who are still there. I knew about the journey on La Bestia train, coyetes, gangs, police, sex abuse to girls and women, the young ages they’d go and try to change their lives for the better, all for different reasons: escape domestic violence, gangs, poverty or discrimination for being gay. The stories live with me still. I talk to taxi drivers when they wonder where I’m from and feel compelled to tell me their story: the risks of living and working illegally in the black market in the hope of sending money back to their families. It’s harrowing, but admirable.

The title is somewhat ambiguous, and the word essay doesn’t really accurately describe the function or discourse of the book. It’s more of an account of the writer’s experiences of volunteering as an interpreter for unaccompanied minors from Central America seeking legal status in the US. Luiselli is actually a Mexican author, who came to work with a charity specializing in immigration matters after experiencing problems with her own Green Card. As you can imagine, it’s very topical considering the mess about immigrant children being separated from parents and imprisoned in cages, which I touched on in my post Migrant Children Kept in Cages. However, a large bulk of the book is written in 2014/2015 during the Barack Obama administration when the crisis of unaccompanied minors was at boiling point and policies were changed to try and return children as quickly as possible. The forty questions refers to those asked by lawyers and immigration staff when asking why a child why they’d come to the US, the whereabouts of their parents, and fear they face, with interviewers not understanding the full predicament of the child’s situation or the misunderstanding of some of the questions. Luiselli also looks at other issues kids face, such as finding lawyers to take on their cases or getting access to education.

Something else that doesn’t make it much of an essay is the beautiful flowing prose that makes it seem more like a story: it’s too interesting to be an essay. Luiselli, I could tell from the off, is an excellent writer. She really puts you in the mindset of the minor and the issues, informing you with interesting facts with a sometimes emotional narrative. Nontheless, I liked it, especially her story about Manu. I got to know a few dozen Manus in Casa Alianza. I’ve met a couple in Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, too. The attitude and lack of confidence in authority figures, but very warm when they break down their exterior. To find out about Manu, read it yourself.

I liked the book until the last 20%, which is described an a brief eight point postscript, some of which records the hysteria surrounding Donald Trump winning the US elections. It gets a bit dramatic. Of course, you can’t mention immigration to the US without mentioning Trump, yet I think Luiselli’s worries regarding unaccompanied minors, rather than her own worries. I feel after that the book trails off a little, a shame to end the book which was so well-written up to then. It comes across a bit rushed and bloggy, with the lexis not being quite as fluent.

I give it 4/5. It would have had five had it not been for the final flaw. Otherwise, an emotional topic which was informative and excellently written for the majority of the book. I recommend it to anyone wanting a dose of realism into the life of a child immigrant and the trials and tribulations they go through.

I especially recommend it Donald Trump.