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.
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