September 30, 2008

Collecting rainwater

Collecting rainwater in a bucket, La Ceiba, Honduras
Rain buckets

We are collecting rainwater. Not because we are so ecologically minded − though we try − but because we have not had any water come through our faucets for three days.

The pump broke and they have been waiting for parts − supposedly − for about two weeks. In the meantime we've been getting from 3-8 hours of water per day. That means when the water comes, I have to drop everything to wash dishes, do some laundry, take a shower, flush the toilets, etc. Before I do any of that, I have to run all the faucets to clean out all the crud that comes through after the water has been off and then have to clean the sinks, showers, and toilets from all the dirty water. That alone takes at least an hour each day. (See previous articles in the Utilities, or lack thereof topic.)

We still haven't installed a cistern so we keep about 10 of these 5-gallon buckets filled with water at all times. We also always have 2-4 5-gallon jugs of purified water on hand. We go through that water pretty fast. Those toilets have to be flushed at least a couple of times a day.

Two nights ago, someone came and stole the electric cable that ran to the pump. Apparently when they removed the pump to repair it, the workers left the electric cable uncovered. That was all it took to get some passerby to come back during the middle of the night to steal it. I wish they had been electrocuted.

Collecting rainwater in a bucket, La Ceiba, HondurasUnfortunately, it did not rain enough today to fill the buckets so El Jefe will probably have to take some to fill them at his brother's house tonight or tomorrow. Hopefully they will have water because I've heard that in town the city water system has been rationing. Since we've been getting rain lately, the rationing may be over.

(Funny joke made by a neighbor: We've had some talk about the possibility of connecting to the city water system. I'm concerned about that because as bad as our water is, at least it is natural and doesn't have bacteria and .... all that other stuff that the city water has. I asked, "Isn't the city water contaminated?" A neighbor replied: "Yes, but it doesn't matter because they never have any anyway.")

You didn't even hear me mention the water situation for the past couple of weeks, did you? I've adjusted. I've learned to say a little prayer of gratitude when I turn on a faucet and water actually comes out. I can be happy with four hours of water a day, preferably if I know which four hours it is going to be. But I'll have to admit that after three days without and no indication of when the water will ever come back, I am starting to get a little grouchy.


Double sigh.

And a few bad words thrown in for good measure.

September 29, 2008

How do you say....

.... $1.2 trillion in Spanish?

September 27, 2008

Sneak preview: The plastic bag plastic bag

plastic bagsA tiny sampling of my stash

This is a fun project and oh-so good for the environment. I've been saving plastic bags for a long time now. I had a vague idea of crocheting a mat for Chloe. Then I started thinking that all those nooks and crannies in the stitches would be a haven for ticks. Not a good idea. Jacinta Mucosa had an article about shopping bags and it clicked! I was going to crochet a market bag.

If you are a crocheter, start saving all those plastic grocery and shopping bags. Stuff them in a closet somewhere and ask your neighbors to save some for you, too.

I went from those plastic bags above, plus about 50 more, to this:

Plastic bag plarnThey call it 'plarn'. Plastic yarn.

I went from the bags to the plarn to this:

market bag made from plastic shopping bags
I'm making this market bag! You wouldn't believe how good it feels. The texture is like something manufactured. It's very rich, thick, and sturdy. El Jefe marvels at this whole idea. At first he thought it was crazy, but he really likes it now.

I had big plans of making one for myself and more for several relatives and friends until....I ran out of yellow bags. Now I need to do a bunch of shopping so I can finish. ;-D Would you believe there are about 80 bags in what I have finished so far? But it is still lightweight. The writing and colors on the bags just give it a sort of tweedy look. This would make a great beach bag, too.

I just love this idea! I can't wait to try the standard orange and white Honduran bags. Talk about recycling! Not only are those dangerous plastic bags not being thrown into the environment or burned, but this one can be used over and over again. They say that the bags can even be washed in the washing machine and hung to dry in the shade.

I'm winging this pattern as I go, but I'm keeping track so I can give you detailed directions when I finish. Stay tuned....

September 26, 2008

You have such pretty....

Baby feet

I noticed a common physical trait among most of the Hondurans that I met when I first visited La Ceiba, Honduras. It was one of the first things that I noticed about El Jefe, too. I don't know if it is common throughout Honduras or more in the north coast area. It's something that I still often notice with envy today.

No, not feet, but hands. So many of the Honduran people have the most beautiful, tiny and delicate hands. Even many of the construction workers, who work with concrete and do rough jobs all day long, will have delicate looking hands with the long, thin, tapered fingers. I used to think that I had nice small hands, but now I try to hide them away. ;-)

I had the idea that I wanted to do a photo array of Honduran hands. After trying to get a few photos, I think I'm going to have to give up on that idea.

First, I'm not that good a photographer and really don't know how to arrange the hands. Second, everyone acted like I was crazy or up to something because I wasn't taking photos of their faces. Third, even family members seemed very self-conscious about their hands even though I would tell them that I wanted to photograph them because they were so pretty.

Their hands would usually start out very stiff and claw-like, like this (above). I pick up the hands, gently straighten out the fingers and place them back down. Boing! Stiff and self-conscious again. I pick up the hands again, and rub them a little until they relax, and gently place them back down. Boing! Stiff again. I try again, telling them how pretty their hands are while massaging them a little. Finally they relax, but still the pose isn't natural.

In this first photo, B is pressing down her fingers hard against the table as if she was being fingerprinted. After I rubbed her fingers for a minute and assured her that I liked her hands very much, she finally relaxed a little (photo below).

El Jefe also thinks it is weird to take photos of hands. I don't think I would have the nerve to ask a stranger to let me photograph their hands.

I don't think these photos do them justice, but if you come to Honduras, check out the hands and see if you agree.

Here are two of my models. Aren't they adorable?

They are both nieces. Abby, on the left, didn't understand why I would take a photo of her hands and demanded that I take a photo of her feet, too. Hahaha. Hence, the photo at top. She was pleased with the photo.

I think those were new shoes. I remarked at how big her feet were, and she squealed with pleasure, "Si!". She's four and still at an age where big feet are something to be proud of.

September 25, 2008

Chloe saves the chickens!

Chloe, Honduran Rottweiler/DobermanChloe: Always on guard

Last night the dogs were going nuts. I was really scared.

We have five chihuahuas and one sweet (to us) and ferocious (to others) Rottweiler/Doberman mix. My dogs, I'm sure like most dogs, have different barks for different reasons.

There is the bark! which is a gentle reminder to "Give me a cookie." or "Pick me up."

There is the direct order: bark-bark! which means "Let me in now!" "Hey! It's raining out here."

Bark-bark-bark! (usually from two or three of the chihuahuas) and Woof-woof-woof! (from the Rottweiler) means someone is walking on the street and the dogs are saying, "There are guard dogs here. Watch your step, buddy."

Bark!-Bark!-Bark!-Bark! (from three or four of the chihuahuas) and Woof!-Woof!-Woof!-Woof! signifies imminent danger: "You are getting too close. I'm warning you!"

Last night I was getting:

Bark!-Bark!-Bark!-Bark! Bark!-Bark!-Bark!-Bark!
Woof!-Woof!-Woof!-Woof! Woof!-Woof!-Woof!-Woof!

Warning! Warning! Warning!
Perimeter breached!
Intruder on the premises!!

I believed them.

To make matters worse, all six dogs were involved and they were alternately racing to the street side of the house and standing guard at the top of the steps of the terraza as they barked their little heads off sounding much more ferocious than chihuahuas usually do. Chloe has no problem in this department. If I didn't know her, she would scare me when she gets serious about her guarding job.

I made sure all the windows and doors were locked. I went upstairs and looked around from the terraza but it was too dark to see anything. It's not a good idea to talk about security measures but suffice it to say that I was prepared!

Eventually we all calmed down, the dogs first and then me. I assumed that the dogs were protecting us from an animal intruder, not a human one. Chloe particularly does not like snakes and has barked all night long while she kept one cornered.

(You might want to stop reading here if you are sensitive to dead body photos.)

This morning I went out to the terraza to feed the dogs. I walked down the steps to go to the chicken coop to gather the daily egg (Singular. We have 10 chickens and are getting one egg per day, but that is another couple of stories.)

I turned on the sidewalk to head towards the coop and stopped and screamed! And then screamed again. El Jefe came running.

There, arranged neatly on the sidewalk as a display of her excellent kill was this:

Honduran opossum
I thought it was a huge rat! In the split second while I was screaming, I was also thinking that I wanted to move. El Jefe said that no, it wasn't a rat, "It's one of those animals that eat chickens." An opossum. Chloe protected our flock and captured and killed the vicious predator. We were so proud of her.

September 24, 2008

What's up with La Gringa?

La Gringa's work areaIt's a mess.
Do you notice anything out of the ordinary?*

I've been incredibly busy lately and have been neglecting you loyal readers. There is lots going on here − I've been taking photos and notes so hopefully one day I can update you (I still have the urge to say 'y'all', the perfectly sensible plural of you.** ;-D ).

Speaking of that (y'all), I was talking to a Honduran man the other day. We started conversing in Spanish but he switched to English and, taking the easy way out, I did, too. His English was excellent, no − perfect. At one point, he said 'y'all' and I couldn't help but smile. I haven't heard that in a long time and it sounded good to my ears. I guess it is like 'pucha'. Those slang words just sound so cute coming from someone of another language.

This man is someone with so much knowledge! And he was as willing to share it with us as we were eager to learn it. I told him that I would like to meet again so that we can 'pick his brain' some more. Hopefully, he understood that expression and doesn't think I meant something weird. I think that he understood. El Jefe and I both told him that it was our lucky day when we came to meet him. I said (and meant) that it was an honor to meet him. We all vowed to fight city hall together someday!

Status report: Amazingly, David is still whooping Goliath. Some of our neighbors have been just incredibly supportive. It has been a real roller coaster ride of elation and despair, but so far, so good. The thing that makes it difficult is that there is never a definite end to something in Honduras. You can win on all counts, but in the blink of an eye, everything can change, especially if money passes hands − and that is what my Honduran neighbors warn me, not my personal observation, just in case anyone wants to get upset about it.

Other things that I'm working on are an audit of our patronato (homeowner group) books (all I can say is HARD!), writing a letter to the neighbors, in Spanish, of course (El Jefe edited it but he was mightily surprised at my draft), writing a neighborhood newsletter in Spanish (only have it down in English so far), meetings, meetings, and more meetings. I wrote the letter directly in Spanish and didn't use an internet translator so I was pretty proud of myself. I did have to look up a few words, especially the accounting words, and of course, there were mistakes, but it wasn't bad if I do say so myself.

Reading back over this, I realize that this sounds a lot like my life in Dallas, except that was easier because I knew how things functioned and it was in English!

Oh, in other news, there is a big fight going on in the comments section of Immigrating to Honduras, revisited −again! Yay, Deena! You go girl!

Though my blogicito is ranked 4 by Google, most of my individual page articles are not even ranked. That one has a 3 rating thanks to all the attention. It's number one in the whole world (of 1,720,000 entries) on a Google search for "immigrating to Honduras" so thanks for the publicity, anonymous commenters. Follow the link above if you would like to stick up for me.

My good Garífuna friend E is back in Honduras and I am so glad. Missed you and our brilliant conversations, E!

A previous maid came round today to ask for work. She's coming tomorrow, so maybe if we can get these floors cleaned and I won't be ashamed to invite anyone over. I actually couldn't place her at first and had to ask El Jefe if she had ever stolen from us. "No, she was the one who missed 2-3 days of work per week." Oh, well, I'm playing hard to get this time and told her it was only a job for one day. Will she show up? We'll see.

Best of all news, we have been getting rain!

Wow! It is a lot easier and faster to write an article from memory and not have to look up facts and and figures and quotes and links. Easy! I need to do more of this.

* Besides the fact that I recently realized I forgot to do my tax return, there is a dog coming in the window in the photo! Dogs, chickens, lizards, birds − no telling what you'll see coming in my windows. No wonder I can't keep my house clean.

** For my Honduran readers who may not be familiar with this slang word, 'y'all' is an abbreviation for 'you all', just like ustedes, except that it is not a proper word and should not be used in formal writing or speaking. Feel free to use it if you go to Texas. ;-)

September 21, 2008

Believe it or not: "Crime has been reduced"

Crime in HondurasCartoon by Dario Banegas, La Prensa

"Minister of Security: Crime has been reduced in Honduras"

Translation of the headline of a brief El Heraldo article (in Spanish). A so-so Google translation of the article can be found here.

"The incidence of crime in Honduras has been reduced," said the Minister of Security Jorge Rodas Gamero, the third minister of security in the past three and a half years and brother to Patricia Rodas, President Zelaya's right-hand woman. "Some say that it has increased, other feel more secure." He assured reporters that "the statistics don't show that (crime has increased).

However, when asked in an interview what the statistics are, he responded, "We are working in that direction." He recounted in government gobbledygook that "it takes a process of comparisons in the office of analysis where we are permanently watching what is the behavior of the previous year with this year and other factors, which may not be quantified in the previous year but which must be quantified this year."

That sounds like last year's crime statistics will be changed in order to reflect a decrease this year. A similar thing was done in 2004 when the official Honduran murder statistics for 2002 were revised downward from 95 per 100,000 population to 45, still leaving Honduras with one of the top five murder rates in the world. By comparison, for the last several years, the violent US has ranged from 5.5 to 5.7 murders per 100,000 population and Canada is generally less than 2.

Looking at this report, it seems obvious to me that a new method of fudging statistics was developed in 2003. Now that the rates have risen once again to horrendous levels, yet another new method of reporting the statistics is being developed, probably to keep Honduras from winning the silver medal in worldwide murder counts.

This sounds reminiscent of the health department's dengue statistics last year. Incidents of dengue (another hard to measure statistic because most people do not go to a public doctor or hospital to be treated) were much increased over 2007, so the health department chose to compare 2007 with 2004, thus showing that all was normal. Reporters continually questioned their reasoning to no avail.

The plain fact is that there are no reliable crime statistics in Honduras, other than murder, which is more difficult, though not impossible, to hide. (How many people can accidentally hack themselves to death by falling on their machete?) The vast majority of crimes are never reported because in most cases there is no point to it. At best it is usually a waste of time; at worst it can be dangerous.

This 2007 crime report shows 22 home robberies in the entire departamento (state) of Atlántida! Please! My little neighborhood had at least 25% that number and that is only one neighborhood of a thousand or more in the state. For the entire country, the report shows 249 home robberies. I would estimate that 30-40% of my neighbors have been robbed and that is based only on the ones that I have heard about.

The United Nations and other organizations recognize the lack of reporting of crime. They measure "the perception of crime" in Honduras and other similar countries by public polls in which they ask respondents, among other questions, whether they or members of their family have been a victim of crime.

Rodas Gamero went on to say that "One of the factors that influence violence and insecurity is the quantity of deportees that permanently are coming into our country." He went on to say, "I don't want to say with this that those who come are a factor in the incidence, but within those who come, some come with new experiences, with new methods, and that we have to immediately analyze this so that we can neutralize it."

Offensive! That was my first thought. Sure, some Honduran deportees are criminals and gang members. But to blame the government's inability to control crime, protect its citizens, fight narcotrafficking, or even cleanse the police force of criminals is an insult to the majority who are honest, hard working men and women who, out of desperation, immigrate to other countries in order to help their families to survive. My opinion is that many of these deportees have learned valuable things about the first world which could be of significant benefit to the country, providing they are able to find a job.

Public comments on the newspaper article range from "Do you think the pueblo is stupid?" to "This is the lie of the century." "In what world does this minister live or is this just a bad joke?" Another suggested that the minister should go out on the streets without his bodyguards.

The government needs to take action against crime including making sure that criminals are incarcerated, not feed us false statistics. We aren't dumb and no one is going to buy it.

September 20, 2008

Menu chuckles

Menu chuckles, La Ceiba, Honduras
I couldn't find 'fetushini' in the Spanish dictionary, but I really appreciate the way that Spanish words are pronounced the way they are spelled. There is no mistaking the pronunciation with this spelling, unlike 'fettuccine.'

Menu chuckles, La Ceiba, Honduras"Potato Soup.
It's of potatoes"

'Nuff said.

Menu chuckles, La Ceiba, Honduras
"Ask about our Saco Moco salsa that burns on the entrance and burns again on the exit."

These are from a Honduran "Mexican" restaurant that was one of our favorites. Sadly it is now closed.

September 18, 2008

The coup that wasn't

Uncle Sam and Mel ZelayaZelaya: "We won't receive your new ambassador"
Caricatures by Dario Banegas, La Prensa

I gave an update on the coup in the comments section, but then started thinking that not all of the Blogicito readers read the comments. (Please do! They are often more brilliant than the articles. )

But for those who didn't read my comment on the Planned coup rumor article, I thought that I should officially inform you that there was no golpe de estado (coup d'état) either by or against the president. That's just in case you were wondering if we were dodging bullets and bombs or are eating the last of the frijoles because it isn't safe to travel the highway.

Nope. All is normal. As normal as Honduras ever is.

DiplomacyLast week's excitement was President Zelaya's refusal to accept the credentials of Honduras' new US Ambassador which caused quite a stir. Aaron of Pensieve wrote about in Lunacy in Honduras. If you keep up with international news, you'll know that Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela both ousted their US Ambassadors and the US ousted the Bolivian Ambassador.

President Zelaya decided to show solidarity with his new ALBA pals. The country was shocked! The US is the major trading partner of Honduras and is considered by most to be a friend, though not everyone agrees with many of the US trading practices. This move was particularly unpopular with the more than a million Hondurans who live in the US who worry about their status there. Their remesas (money transfers) to relatives here in Honduras represent about a third of the country's income!

I'll have to say that this move also caused some concern from US residents in Honduras. After all, Chávez has ousted many US Americans from Venezuela. Most of us aren't used to such political uncertainty. However, Hondurans that we spoke to invariably said "No worries. This, too, shall pass."

Even worse was the manner in which Zelaya communicated this. He sent a text message to reporters at 3 a.m. and did not even notify the Embassy. The US Embassy found out when they were asked for comments by reporters. Zelaya, apparently realizing his diplomatic faux paux, quickly backtracked, announcing it was a only a delay, that it would cause no harm in US-Honduras relations, that the US didn't really care what a humble little country like Honduras does, that it was normal practice, only a technicality, blah, blah, blah. The ceremonies for the new ambassador will held next Friday.

President Zelaya continues to prove my "king theory" by seeming to shoot from the hip without considering the wishes of the majority of the country. I don't know if he has very bad advisors or if he truly believes that he can do anything he wants to.

Ángel in Tegucigalpa says, "Here we go again, another chapter in this soap opera".

September 17, 2008


rainy street, La Ceiba, HondurasRainy street

We have been getting the usual 45 seconds of rain every day for the past month. We joke that by the time one of us can mention that it is raining, it has already stopped. Never mind closing the windows. By the time we run up or down the stairs, there is no longer a need.

Finally! For the last two days, we have been getting an air-cooling Honduran-style tropical downpour that actually waters the lawn rather than just sizzling into steam when it hits the ground.

Listen to the rain:

Maybe it will lift the brain fog that I've been in lately, too. ;-D


Full disclosure: Right after I wrote this, the power went out. Can't have everything, right?

Do you disagree?

Beautiful view, marred by barbed wire, HondurasBeautiful view, marred by necessary barbed wire.
The dichotomy that is Honduras.
I could photoshop it....

Just lately I've received several comments on an old article, "Immigrating to Honduras" from April 2008, an update of an article I originally wrote in January 2007. Over the two-plus years that I've been writing this blog, I've heard from hundreds of people with questions. I wrote this article to try to summarize some important things that people should consider if they are thinking about moving to Honduras.

Reader "Catracho" seemed to take this article very personally. Interesting, because I read the whole thing again and I didn't quite get his resentment, unless he works for the Consulate, in which case he knows that the accusations are absolutely true.

In fact, while I was reading article, I was thinking that with very few changes, it probably would fit immigrating to just about any country. Change is stressful.

Immigrants in the US often have a difficult time in many of those same areas that I mentioned. It is just a sad fact that immigrants are often taken advantage of in most countries in the world, especially when they don't speak the language of the country; certainly they are in the US, don't you agree?

trash on the street, HondurasJust as many Hondurans go to the US for many reasons − which rarely have to do with the fact that they blindly love the US, its government, and every one of its people or believe it is a utopia − US Americans come to Honduras for many reasons, too. Some come to retire in a warm climate, for jobs, for missions to help Honduras, and a whole lot are coming lately because their husbands have been deported and that is the only way they can hold their families together.

Standing in line, HondurasWe came because my husband is Catracho and his family is here and we thought we could have a nice simple life here. As in most mixed-country marriages, compromises have to made. We might have made a different decision if we had been better informed. I wanted to move to Honduras, but that doesn't mean that I have to be blind to the realities of life here.

My goal for this article was not to make Honduras sound bad, but to be more realistic about what it is like to move to Honduras. I just happen to believe that people who are prepared will have an easier time than those who are shocked that it isn't the paradise that they were told to expect.

Pico Bonito, HondurasWhen people read my blog − all of it, not just one article − and still want to come to Honduras, I believe that they are the kind of realistic person who will have a successful life here. It's the people who can't bear to read a negative word about Honduras who I think will have the hardest time in the long run − or more accurately, in a very short time.

Honduras is not a paradise; no country is. However, if you read the real estate sites and tourism sites, that's what they claim. And why do they claim that? Because they have something to sell.

Ocean view, La Ceiba, HondurasI don't think that is fair to people who need solid information to make a good, informed decision − just as it isn't fair to Hondurans to think that the streets are paved with gold in the US and that they will all become millionaires overnight! It just isn't so.

So once again, I'm sorry if anyone was offended. I think there are some good facts in the article and some good solid links whereby readers can learn more about Honduras and make their own decisions. Knowledge is power.

media intimidation, HondurasCatracho also suggested that I should be deported. I don't think that Honduras is a country that deports people for what they think or what they say, but I could be wrong. In that case, then that is definitely something that the world should know so that wouldn't stop me from blogging. I don't think that right now at this point in time, Honduras needs the scandal of deporting a little housewife from La Ceiba for blogging.

Catracho mentioned the trust issue again in his second comment. Though I am working through many cultural differences, it seems that my feelings about trust put me right in there with the majority of Hondurans! Did you read the referenced trust article?:
"A recent National Report of Transparency showed that 47% of the Honduran people surveyed don't trust anyone (including family members) and 46% have very little trust in others for a whopping 93% of the total population!"

So, in this respect, I am fitting in quite well with the Honduran culture. It is a sad situation but it is real and I see it every day in the way that people treat each other. To pretend that it doesn't exist is to set yourself up for heartbreak. To understand that it does exist will go a long way in helping understand the culture.

Guava, HondurasMy Blogicito is always open for those readers who have a different opinion than I do. However, those who can only say "Go back to where you came from" or "She should be deported", or imply that I shouldn't have a right to give my opinion are not really disputing what I say, only my right to say it. Even in Honduras, we have the right to free speech, supposedly.

So if you disagree, feel free to explain why. Just remember that your experience is your experience and mine is mine.

"Why don't you rest, papa?"

"I'm used to it."

September 15, 2008

Still hot

This 2008 hot spell is never going to end.

We have moved to hell or hell has moved to La Ceiba and there is no getting out. The heat is the major focus of conversation wherever I go. Even Ceibeños are marinating in this heat. My sister-in-law says that her house is like a fuego (fire). My neighbor says that hers is like the inside of an horno (oven). The water man prays for rain. I arrive at meetings with my hair dripping with sweat, leaving big wet raindrops all over my shirt. Of course, everyone knows that the only rain is coming from my sweaty head.

Oh, but nobody can describe the heat in Honduras like Lorenzo Lee Belveal:

"Whatever the weather does in Honduras, it does too much of it."

"During a so-called hot-season that lasts roughly from January through September, the entire country approximates the seventh ring of hell when the devil leaves his door open. If deprived of shade between the hours of sun-up and sundown, humans and animals simply wither, vaporize, and disappear upward in the shimmering heat waves that radiate from every inanimate surface. By mid-morning each cloudless day, ornamental backyard fishponds contain boiling water. Asphalt streets dissolve into molten rivers of black bubbling tar. Chickens pant like lizards and lay soft-boiled eggs."

From Payment in Kind; A Hair Raising Tale from the Spanish Main, by Lorenzo Lee Belveal

Ardent, baking, blazing, bleak, blistering, boiling, broiling, burning, choleric, cruel, distressing, exhausting, fiery, glowing, grilling, harsh, humid, intense, muggy, onerous, oppressive, overbearing, peppery, pungent, raging, rigorous, roasting, scalding, scorching, searing, severe, sizzling, soggy, sticky, stifling, stuffy, suffocating, sulfurous, sultry, sweltering, torrid, tropical, tyrannical, violent heat.

September 14, 2008

The neighbors came through

Municipal Justice, La Ceiba, HondurasJusticía Municipal,
where we looked for justice
(Hidden camera photo by El Jefe)

I have a nice story to relate.

Something is happening near us that could be very detrimental. It will primarily affect those in the immediate vicinity of our house and not so much the other neighbors.

I can't be too specific about the situation. I'm sorry. I know that is frustrating for readers so I hope you understand. Maybe someday I'll be able to tell the whole story, but that really isn't the point of this article anyway.

We've been more involved with our patronato (neighborhood association) than most of the neighbors. I'm an officer in the junta directiva. I wanted to be involved for several reasons. First, because there are lots of improvements I'd like to see. I'd also like to see the neighborhood become friendlier and more of a cohesive unit because I've seen in the US and Honduras that it can make a big difference, not only in getting things done, but also in safety and life in general. Neighbors who get to know each other are just better neighbors to have.

Finally, not to brag, but I feel that I have a lot of experience to offer, even considering the cultural differences, in organizing and administering a neighborhood association and in encouraging neighbors to participate.

The major focus of the group to date has been a problem that doesn't really affect us, but I've been to almost every meeting and I try to give ideas when I can. As far as organization and administration, I haven't been able to make too much of an impact − YET! − but I keep working on it, bringing things up in a nice, non-confrontational way, hoping to wear them down eventually. ;-D

When it comes to financial matters, they do respect my opinions and so far have implemented my suggestions. I've also surprised them a few times, bringing up Honduran laws and so forth that they didn't expect me to know.

Knowing that we have been involved with the colonia's patronato, a neighbor came over almost in tears to tell me about this problem and to ask for our support.

El Jefe called the President of the patronato and asked for an emergency meeting to discuss it and what we might be able to do. He called several people to advise them of the meeting, primarily those who have been more involved in the past.

Not many people showed up (and never do) but most of those we called came. One even called to apologize that she wouldn't be able to come. Disappointingly, the people who asked for help didn't come.

I really didn't know what to expect from the neighbors. I was prepared to hear that it wasn't that big of a deal or that there was nothing we could do or "Too bad, but you can't fight it."

Al contrario! To the contrary, the people there were very supportive and sympathized with our viewpoint, even though they wouldn't be directly affected. We brainstormed, talked about who had what connections where who could help us, and came up with some immediate plans. Not only that, but some of them left the meeting and used their own personal time and resources and followed through on the first steps that we as a group had decided to do.

One of the places that we had to go was the Justicía Municipal (municipal justice) in the photo above. We were accompanied by one of our neighbors who knows the ropes. The receptionist had that bored, vacant-eyed look of government employees everywhere. The sign on her desk read: "Information. Deposit your weapon here."

We didn't find justice there but they sent us to another office in the municipal building to look for it. It's still up in the air at this point, but I'm hopeful. More hopeful, I'm afraid, than El Jefe, who is skeptical about who can be bought for what price in the municipalidad. Then we had another neighborhood meeting that night and a few more neighbors came, including the ones who asked for support originally.

I don't know what is going to happen in the long run, but right now I'm feeling pretty good about my neighbors!

September 11, 2008

Breaking news: Planned coup rumor

Roberto Micheletti, president of the Honduran national congress
Photo: La Tribuna

Proceso Digital, a online Honduran newspaper, reported today that Roberto Micheletti, president of Honduras' national congress, has met with President Mel Zelaya to discuss information of a planned golpe de estado (coup d'état) on September 15, the national independence day holiday.

Unlike the suggestions that have been made by some citizens, the rumored coup is not against the President, but rather, by the president in junction with the military.

Micheletti stated that the president has categorically denied this. He stated, "I want the Honduran public to be calm because at no time has a coup been planned, because President Manuel Zelaya has assured me of this".

La Tribuna, as of this moment, has only reported a second secret meeting this week between the two functionaries with speculation that it was to discuss the ALBA treaty and internal party elections. In another Tribuna article, Micheletti announced yesterday that ALBA will not be approved by the congress if it commits Honduras to any sort of military action or required submission of Honduras' interests to any other country. He again stated that the congress needs all of the documents.

ALBA is a controversial treaty President Zelaya recently signed with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, along with Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Dominica, despite much objection from Honduran business leaders and congressmen. You can read more about it in my "Sold to the highest bidder - ALBA" article.

La Prensa reported President Zelaya's denial of the coup; however, La Prensa also reported yesterday that a secret meeting occurred last Tuesday between Zelaya and the military leaders, to which the media was not informed as is the normal custom. 'Off the record,' Military leader Romeo Vásquez denied that the meeting was to discuss anything other than policy. He could not explain why the media was not notified of the new meeting which was changed from the planned date and held behind closed doors.
Photo: La Prensa

Porfirio (Pepe) Lobo, president of the Nacionalista party and presidential hopeful in the upcoming elections, has been direct in pointing out that he believes that Mel Zelaya has "planes continuista" (plans to continue his presidency even though the constitution of Honduras does not allow a second term).

A few days ago in Honudiario, Ramon Custodio, Commissioner of Human Rights, reported that the Honduran military is not prepared for any kind of coup.

Several times in the past months, Micheletti has made cryptic comments to the media about persons or groups who are trying to threaten democracy in Honduras. No names were ever mentioned.

So, is this all rumors and overreaction to secret meetings or is something in the works? Are the rumors politically motivated? Where there is smoke, there is fire? I don't know, but Honduras has a very finely tuned grapevine and as often as not, rumors prove to have at least some truth behind them.

September 18 update: The coup that wasn't

September 9, 2008

Ra, ra, ra!

My Spanish reading abilities weren't very good at all when I first began to try to read the newspaper here in Honduras. I forced myself to sit down every morning, with several cups of coffee, my giant Spanish-English dictionary, a pen and a notebook into which I would write all the new to me words along with their definitions.

In the beginning, I wouldn't get too much past the headlines on most articles and would usually try to read completely only one or two articles. As my reading became better, I would attempt more and more articles, sometimes spending a good part of the day struggling with the newspaper and ending up with a headache.

I didn't have a good grasp of all the verb tenses − and can't say that I do now either − but I would recognize the base word and be able to understand the gist of the sentence.

For months, I would get excited about something I read, ("A new hospital/school/bridge was built in ...."; "A new law was passed to ...."; "The criminal/narco/corrupto went to jail"; "XXX community has electricity/clean water/sewage system/telephone.") only to realize upon closer reading that the verb included a 'ra' at the end, future tense, meaning that it didn't happen; it was 'going to' happen. In the real world that is Honduras, 'going to' probably means 'not really going to'!

Then for awhile I would still be hopeful about the changes which were 'going to' occur in Honduras. But after a few years, I've almost quit reading the ra-ra-ra articles because I know that they are just dreams.

Yes, the hospital may be built, but there will be no doctors to attend to the patients or drugs with which to treat them.

Yes, the water treatment plant will be built at a huge cost, but it will never be used.

The school will be built, but no one will provide maintenance and eventually the students will be back outside taking classes under the tree because the falling down ceilings are too dangerous and the stinking plumbing with no water is a health risk.

The bridge will be started, but then the funds will dry up. Or the bridge will be started, but then the contractor will abscond with the funds. Or the bridge will be built but will fall down with the first tropical storm.

The new transparency law will be passed but will be carefully worded so that all corrupt deeds can be covered up and legally unavailable for investigation.

The criminals may be charged, but under Honduras' lucrative "catch and release" program, they will be free to go back to their evil deeds when the police let them escape, when the fiscales decide there isn't enough evidence, when the judges let them go free, or, worst case, when convicted, they are allowed to pay $US 75 cents per day to "buy out" their sentence or they escape from prison.

I know that sounds cynical, but if I had the time, I could find hundreds of links to newspaper articles to back up those exact statements.

I still think the key to learning to read the newspaper is not to try to mentally translate every word but to try to understand the meaning of a sentence in its entirety. Even now that my Spanish reading ability is pretty good, I often have a hard time trying to translate what I've read to English words.

I've also been Honduranized. Rah! rah! rah! about all the changes if you like. But when I read the ra-ra-ra articles, I think to myself, "Yeah, right. Whatever. I'll believe it when I see it."

Though I haven't given up on Honduras, I find it easier now to understand the fatalistic attitude of most Hondurans.

September 7, 2008

How hot is it in La Ceiba?

Hot and dry September, La Ceiba, HondurasCan you feel the heat?

The weather has been unbearably hot in La Ceiba for about a month now. Prior to that, we were getting the most rain of any dry season that I can remember. But now we are supposed to be in the rainy season and it has been hot and dry as a bone despite the four hurricanes/tropical storms flashing across the Atlantic.

How hot is it? I won't give temperature highs because those are meaningless. It's the humidity, stupid! When humidity is in the 80% range, high 80's-low 90's°F temperatures have a 'real feel' to the body that bears no relation to the official temperature. Just yesterday when the temperature was 90°F (32°C), reported that La Ceiba's 'real feel' was 113°F (45°C). Tomorrow the 'real feel' is supposed to reach 117°F (47°C)!

It is so hot that the things that I hang on the line to dry inside the laundry room dry faster than the clothes in the dryer.

It is so hot that I have to lean back while I'm cooking or preparing food so I don't inadvertently add more 'salt' than necessary to the food − if you know what I mean.

Hot and dry September, La Ceiba, HondurasIt is so hot that the tortillas pulled out of the freezer thaw in under a minute on the countertop.

It is so hot that I've been trying to learn to walk and make slower movements like Hondurans so that I don't sweat so much.

It is so hot that clothes are difficult to remove from your body. They roll up and stick to you.

It is so hot that a cold shower feels good. It feels so good that it is hard to get out of the shower.

It is so hot that steam comes off my head when I stick it under the shower.

It is so hot that any amount of housework results in me looking like I just stepped out of a rainstorm.

It is so hot that I've discovered that even my hair sweats.

It is so hot that my coffee never gets cold no matter how long I take to drink it.

It is so hot that the ice melts in minutes even inside my insulated mug.

It is so hot that my dogs enjoy licking the salty sweat off my ankles.

It is so hot that I don't want to move!

September 6, 2008

Sold to the highest bidder - ALBA

ALBA, Daniel Ortega, Hugo Chávez, Manuel ZelayaDaniel Ortega, Hugo Chávez, Manuel Zelaya, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya
Photos: Casa Presidencial Honduras

Honduras President Mel Zelaya looked at the "moderate offers" from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, Europe and decided it wasn't enough.

ALBA, Daniel Ortega, Hugo Chávez, Manuel ZelayaDespite what currently appears to be strong opposition among the Honduran public, President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya signed the Alternativa Bolivariana para las Américas (ALBA) treaty with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on August 25, 2008, joining Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Dominica. Earlier this year, Honduras became a member of Petrocaribe, under which Chávez allows member countries the opportunity to finance as much as 60% of their Venezuelan oil purchases for as long as 25 years at 1% interest.

At this point, no one is entirely sure to what terms Zelaya has committed Honduras. Those in opposition to the agreement call it a political and military treaty. Those in favor say it is a trade and mutual support agreement, though it is unclear what support impoverished Honduras could provide to oil-rich Venezuela.

One would assume that President Zelaya would have received the treaty terms well in advance of signing the agreement and would have analyzed them with his advisors − and thus would have the treaty readily available to the Honduras public. Actually, one would assume that in a true democracy, public opinion or at least the opinion of the congress would be a factor prior to any decision. However, for days after the signing, copies of the document have not been provided to journalists or the national congress, all of whom have confirmed that they do not know the specifics of the agreement. So much for democracy and transparency in Honduras.

ALBA signing crowd in HondurasIn front of primarily a paid-to-cheer audience of thousands (L.500 per head and L.20,000 per busload), Chávez ranted for an hour for ALBA and against the US. He declared that the campaign of attacks (against ALBA) would not stop “a revolution in Latin America”.

(Later, some of the campesinos complained that they didn't receive their pay for attending − when will they learn not to trust the politicians?)

Notably absent from the L.2,000,000 spectacle were virtually all Honduran businessmen who as a group have been very vocally against ALBA. Approximately 54% of Honduras' trade is with the US and approximately 30% of its gross national income is from remesas (money transfers) from Hondurans living in the US. Many of the one million Hondurans living in the US are worried about reprisals affecting their immigration status.

Protagonists of ALBA stress that the treaty will benefit the poor, unlike trade treaties which benefit the business interests. They say that the benefits will include US $100 million in agricultural assistance, medical care, education, elimination of illiteracy in 14 months, development of energy and food programs, a seed bank program, jobs, rural electrification, protection of the forests and water sources, artistic and cultural programs, interchange of technology, training of doctors and nurses, a 40% discount on fertilizers, government loans to farmers and the poor, and not to be forgotten, 100 tractors, 4 million light bulbs, and oil for 100 years − to summarize, Honduras will become a utopia!

However wonderful all of that sounds, it is difficult to understand how the average Honduran could believe that it will happen. After all, most are at least vaguely familiar with the billions of dollars of international aid that has poured into this country in the past 30 years to improve education, health, agriculture, roads, bridges, housing, the justice system, and on and on and on, without much effect. The majority of that money has been stolen or wasted due to corruption, poor planning, and poor execution of projects leaving very, very little effect on the country, except to those who have benefited from the corruption.

Defenders also say that the treaty requires no obligation from Honduras. Given the welfare mentality of much of the population, this is guaranteed to promote acceptance among a large part of the population. Free money! Free help! Who wouldn't want that? Never mind that the benefits are not very different from those promised by aid organizations for decades.

ALBA, Daniel Ortega, Hugo Chávez, Manuel ZelayaThe national congress insists that they have to approve the agreement; President Zelaya says that he needs no one's approval to sign it, certainly not from any "imperialist", referring to the US. If the treaty is not ratified by the congress, it will be a huge blow to Mel's ego. It has been reported that anti-treaty sentiment in the Congress has been diffused somewhat with L.1,000,000 payments to many of the congressmen.

Effective September 1, President Zelaya raised the lowest government salaries of L.3,400 to L.5,500, a 62% increase, as well as promised to provide some sort of monthly economic assistance to the 225,000 poorest Hondurans. This type of action is sure to win support of government workers, the poor, and, if the increases spill over into the private sector, a great deal more of the population.

Private sector employees are already clamoring for similar increases. Increases this high will likely put some workers at a salary higher than their supervisor, so the increases won't stop with the lowest paid workers. Such a move will undoubtedly place Honduras in violation of International Monetary Fund aid agreements in which the government has previously agreed to reduce total public salaries by 9.2% in order to provide more benefits to the poor.

The anti-American sentiment spewed by Chávez was not well received nor were the insults to the Honduran population and the Catholic church. Hondurans in general are very formal and nothing is as important as honor and dignity. Even some of those who publicly support ALBA were offended by Chávez's comments. The full text of Chávez's speech was formerly on the president's Poder Cuidadano website (Citizen Power) but has been removed.

Chávez stated that the Hondurans who are against ALBA are either piti-yanquis (US hand kissers, boot lickers), vende patrias (country sellers, sell-outs), or ignorantes (ignorant). Zelaya stated "we are not vassals of the imperialists" and "I wasn't born to be a slave (of the US)". Both speakers, as well as Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Bolivian President Evo Morales, made many other strongly anti-American, anti-media, and anti-capitalist statements. Chávez and Zelaya also referred to each other as "commandantes", a term which has a negative connotation even among many Hondurans, who think of their leader as their elected president, not their commander.

Honduran President Mel ZelayaMost disturbing of all is the rumor that Zelaya's fervor for this pact is because he plans to somehow circumvent the democratic election process and remain president − or commandante? − beyond his term which ends in January 2010. The Honduran constitution prohibits a second term as president.

Mel Zelaya is said to be one of the most unpopular presidents in Honduras' short 40-year history of democracy, even among his own Liberal party members. The average citizen feels that crime and corruption are out of control and really has no faith at all in the government. In online forums and newspaper comments, some citizens even go so far as to call for a 'golpe de estado' (coup d'état).

Mel has lost face among the public several times by announcing projects which have later been overturned by the congress or supreme court or have just dwindled away when the actions began to affect the 'important' people of Honduras (Hoy no circula, open bidding for fuel imports, Operación tijeras, new international airport, a tough public security program). Strong rumors persist that the government itself is in the control of narcotraffickers and organized crime.

In one particularly disrespectful interview, a Honduran analyst was quoted as saying that Mel was so excessively enamored of Chávez that he ejaculates when he hears Chávez speak. The same analyst said that for L.500 (US $26) and a lunch, you can fill the buses (with Hondurans for any event).

However, rhetoric claiming that ALBA is for the poor not the rich will sway Honduran public opinion since 70% of the population lives in poverty. Hondurans for the most part are not known for long term planning and for many of the poor, a handout today is more important than planning for the future or even selling out to communism. The country is virtually a feudal society, with clear divisions between the tiny wealthy class and the large but powerless poor class. Claims that the wealthy got rich on the backs of the poor ring true. Claims that treaties with the US benefit only the US ring true as well.

In Peru, Chávez is making a concerted effort to indoctrinate the poor to what he calls "21st century socialism" through his 200 'ALBA Houses' spread throughout poor areas of the country. On the surface, the casas are benevolent societies offering literacy programs, agricultural assistance, and health care. However, the centers are said to systematically recruit uneducated children and young adults for ideological indoctrination. The Peruvian congress is currently investigating charges that Chávez is trying to destabilize Peru's democratic government.

Is the Honduran business community strong enough to prevent ALBA from taking place? Are the Honduran poor dissatisfied enough, apathetic enough, or tempted enough to support ALBA despite its totalitarian leanings? Can ALBA change Honduras or will the corruptos suck it dry leaving only crumbs for the poor as they have done with virtually every foreign aid program in the past? Will Zelaya begin nationalizing businesses in Honduras? What is clear is that future investment in Honduras will be limited until these questions are answered.


While the internet is awash in Honduras-ALBA related articles in Spanish, here are some of the more enlightening English-language articles:

Fighting for freedom in rural Peru: ALBA houses threaten democracy

HONDURAS: Joining ALBA ‘A Step Towards the Centre-Left,’ Says President

The state of Honduras under Zelaya: In the pink?

Left behind by the US, Honduras turns to Chávez
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