August 24, 2007

It's things like these

On the bus

Story 1:

El Jefe was waiting for the bus on the highway. A skinny, poorly dressed woman with a young child approached. They had ridden a bus a long way from up in the mountains to meet someone who they couldn't find.

She asked El Jefe to try to use the cell phone that she had bought for the trip to call the number she had written on a scrap of paper. El Jefe found that she had no saldo (minutes) on her phone.

She said she had just been to the Uno gas station and used her last 50 lempiras to buy a calling card. Not knowing how to enter the card, she had asked the clerk to help her. The clerk made a show of entering the code into her phone but kept the card and apparently used it herself or sold it to someone else. Welcome to La Ceiba! (El Jefe let her use his phone to contact her friend.)

Story 2:

El Jefe's brother J needed an auto part that wasn't available in La Ceiba. He called a company in San Pedro who had it in stock, available for L.700. His choice was to make the 5-6 hour round trip or deposit the money directly into the company's bank account, which he did.

He called the company to tell them that the deposit had been made and faxed a copy of the deposit slip. The clerk said, "Oops. That part is L.1,500." Knowing that he was stuck − it is virtually impossible to ever get any money back from any Honduran company, even if they don't even have the item that they just "sold" to you − he deposited another L.800 and called again. The clerk said, "Oops. We made a mistake, that part is L.2,600."

So, what can he do now? Now he is in for L.1,500 and can't afford to throw it away. So he made another bank deposit for another L.1,100. When he called, they said, "Which part do you want? We have three different ones." The part was sent and luckily it was the right one, even though J paid more than three times what he was told it would cost. So much for price shopping.

Story 3:

Our former worker Carlos was bringing us some banana plants. He normally rides his bicycle everywhere but the plants were too heavy to carry on his bike. Carlos is skin and bones, and although he dresses neatly, he is obviously poor and from his language, it is easy to tell that he is from the mountains.

He got a taxi to our house and put the banana plants in the trunk. Upon arriving, the taxi driver told him the fare was L.100, a little less than a day's pay for Carlos. Carlos, shocked but too timid to argue with anyone in authority, paid the fare, not knowing that it should have been only about L.50. (We paid him for the fare, the bananas, and something for his time.)

It's things like these...well, what can I say? Why do so many people who have just a tiny bit more power over others take advantage instead of offering a helping hand or at least just being fair with those less fortunate than themselves?

There is so much truth to the Honduran proverb that I wrote about in my first month of blogging. These stories also show why so many Hondurans have little or no trust in other Hondurans − a whopping 93% according to a recent National Transparency survey.

You may say it is a cultural difference. I say it is a reflection of the deterioration of the culture. In any case, it is a cultural difference that I don't plan to adapt to.

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