December 24, 2008

Feliz Navidad by video from Santa's elves

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Feliz Navidad
from La Gringa and El Jefe!

I hope this gives everyone a laugh!

(I hope this video works. It is hilarious! If you don't see the video, try this link. It will only be available until January 15th. Yes, that is exactly what we look like! Heheheh)

December 15, 2008

Culture or customs? gives a long page of definitions of culture. Here are some excerpts:
culture: The sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. Culture is transmitted, through language, material objects, ritual, institutions, and art, from one generation to the next.
cul⋅ture 1. the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc. 3. a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period: Greek culture. 5. the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture. 6. Anthropology. the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.
I often hear or read about people saying that they love the Honduran culture. I wonder which parts of the culture they are referring to. If someone is picking and choosing what they like by referring to the art, language, food, or personalities of some of the people that they have met, maybe that is a fair statement. In most cases, if they are referring to "the sum total of ways of living", then I have to believe that they are not very well informed about Honduran culture today.

Honduras has one of the highest crime rates in the world, the highest rate of violence against women in Latin America (translated version), one of the highest poverty rates in the western hemisphere, and one of the highest rates of mistrust among the people. Rates of alcoholism, child abuse, teenage and other out-of-wedlock childbirth, and incest are off the charts. Honduras corruption is renowned and not just within the government but within all layers of society.

If such actions and traits are so widespread, aren't they a part of the culture, too? When is 'culture' just a custom or even just a bad habit?

And when should culture change?

It's funny and maybe backwards thinking, but to me, those who patronize and blame some serious, harmful flaws on the 'culture' are stereotyping. I think it reflects the typical U.S. superior attitude that "these people" are different and just can't learn and need to be coddled and taken care of like children. You could say that many of those customs are part of the culture or you could say that they are merely a lack of education or awareness of what it takes to get by in the world today.

No. I don't agree that people can't change or learn or that any culture should be revered in its totality, including and maybe especially USA culture. I imagine that there are good and bad things about every culture. There are some people in every country who will be losers no matter where they live or what opportunities they are given. Most people, however, are capable of learning, whether it is learning a job and doing it responsibly or taking care of their children properly. It's just a matter of whether they a) have the opportunity, and b) are motivated to do so or not.

An estimated 1.2 million Hondurans (of an estimated population of 7.6 million), have left Honduras and presumably the majority have adapted and succeeded in varying levels in their new countries. I hear from a lot of expatriate Hondurans who revere the old culture and lament the culture (or customs) of Honduras today. I also hear and read a lot of comments from Hondurans living in Honduras today who lament the changes in the country.

Some say that they love the Honduran culture of "family". I wonder if they have any idea how many children are born each year who will never know a father, how many fathers who have children by multiple women with no thought to ever providing support or taking responsibility for their children, or how many teenage girls pop out a baby by a different guy every year until they finally find one who will stick around. These behaviors were not part of the culture 30 or 40 years ago, so that shows that cultures do change and not always for the better.

Other people come to Honduras believing that they will be the saviors. They seem to think that all they have to do is to teach someone how to do a job or start a business or about the importance of hygiene, health, good eating habits, clean water, saving the environment, and on and on up to the subject of God, and all will be right with the world.

Nope. If only it were that simple, Honduras would have changed a long time ago.
The culture gets in the way. Whether it is a result of generations of ignorance and poverty or apathy instilled from birth, that desire for change is often severely lacking in the people who need it most. More often those visitors go home saying that their lives were changed, not the Hondurans with whom they dealt.

Some other examples of customs or culture have to do with health. A simple thing like leaving food sitting out in homes and restaurants, for example, is a custom that probably results in a lot of food poisoning and diarrhea problems. The Honduran media does a really good job of informing the public about the causes diarrhea, dengue, AIDS, and other diseases and the Honduran customs that need to change to prevent them. Parents are told the importance of vaccinating their children (which is free) and eating healthy foods. Thousands of missionaries and international aid organizations do the same every single year.

Are these people trying to change the culture, which we are always told is a politically incorrect no-no? Or are they just trying to educate the population to some of the beneficial things that we've learned in the modern world?

Children playing with fire crackers is definitely part of the culture
, for example, being shot off at children's birthday parties and holidays. But hundreds of kids get their fingers blown off every year so some local governments have started outlawing it. They are trying to change the culture (or custom) for the safety of the children.

Dental hygiene is not part of many poor Hondurans' culture. Should it be? Are dental and medical missions who pass out toothbrushes and try to teach the importance of brushing teeth trying to change the culture or just trying to improve the lives of those children? Is it okay for parents to say "si Díos quiere" and hope their kids' teeth won't rot out from eating candy and drinking Cokes all day? Or should parents have some responsibility to start changing some of the customs for the sake of their children?

Some of these customs may be part of the culture or maybe they are merely a result of a lack of education. I happen to believe that the lack of work ethic among many Hondurans is primarily a lack of education as are a lot of the unhealthy habits.

Honduras has wholeheartedly embraced change with the advent of the cellphone. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't have one, even if it means that their children don't eat properly or can't go to school. Television, especially cable TV, is important to those who can afford it and have electricity. But in many, many other ways, there just is no desire for change, not if it means making an effort to learn something new or changing one's ways merely because it will benefit the children, the family, or the country rather than the individual.

Often, sadly, people are not motivated. "Cuesta!" is something I have heard frequently. "Cuesta!" means "It costs!" and in the context I'm referring to, it doesn't have to do with money, it has to do with putting forth an effort, taking those extra steps to do a good job, or striving for success. Pride in workmanship is so very lacking.

Once upon a time, none of us knew all the things we now know about health and foods and chemicals and the environment and a million other things. The world changes, don't people have to change, too? Is it okay to keep harming your children and your environment just because you always have − it's in your culture?

Now if there were some idyllic, untouched paradise where the "old ways" were still providing health and happiness to its population (by its own standards), I would say "Fine! Leave it the way it is." But with 60% of its population living in extreme poverty, many in poor health, many just plain hungry, and most in ignorance which severely affects their quality of life and ability to find or hold a job,
Honduras clearly does not fall into that category.

In many ways, it is hard to even find a Honduran culture, so much of it has been replaced with the US culture. The sad part is that Honduras seems to have picked up the materialistic, unimportant, and even harmful parts of the US culture without picking up the good parts that could help to pull it out of the third world category.

The following is a quote from an old article in Honduras This Week (link no longer available), the English-language newspaper of Honduras:
Culture, therefore, should be a life-enhancing process, not some semantic refuge in which boors, barbarians and miscreants can hide. Moreover, history strongly suggests that "cultures" that do not adapt to external models and influences stagnate, atrophy and die. The inclination to absorb and be stimulated by such influences is encoded in cultures that survive and thrive. It's their nature to accept change and evolve. It's the key to their very survival.
This paragraph really struck me and I saved it knowing that sooner or later, I'd write an article where these ideas would fit. Lorenzo D. Belveal had these thoughts about patronizing Central America:

Our (US) national policy toward this region is largely unchanged from the approach that Franklin Roosevelt fashioned under the canopy of his "Good Neighbor Policy."

This unfortunate notion essentially called for patronizing Central America as one might indulge small, somewhat mentally deprived children. As long as they were "nice," the goodies kept coming in the form of non-repayable loans, grants, technological missions, and a variety of other direct and indirect "payoffs" for good behavior.
An even tougher question is "How can destructive aspects of a culture be changed?" I have no answers to that one.

December 13, 2008

La Gringa finally gets her rain gauge

La Gringa's tropical-sized rain gauge, La Ceiba, HondurasLa Gringa's tropical-sized rain gauge

I can't help myself, I like facts and figures. It annoys me that there is no official recording of rainfall amounts for Honduras. Why? Panama has measurements! Of course, it varies a lot by area, so even if there were "official" measurements at the La Ceiba airport, I would want to do my own. It often rains in town when it doesn't here and vice versa.

rain gaugeI searched the internet for ages looking for a tropical-sized rain gauge with no luck. Some gauges are very large but still only measure 5-6 inches (13-15 cm.) of rain. I fell in love with this copper design in August 2006 but it was too small. When you are in the midst of a tropical storm, you don't exactly feel like going out in the rain to empty the gauge two or three times a day.

Then in March 2007 I joked about my 55-gallon drum rain gauge. While functional, I was looking for something just a bit more attractive than that. I was going use a 12-inch straight-sided vase that I had and have a base made similar to the copper one. Anxious to get started with my gringa-obsession of measuring, one day I stuck the vase out in garden, partially obscured and protected from dogs, I thought. But nothing escapes Chloe in her domain. Need I say more?

One day we saw these huge 24 inch (61 cm.) straight-sided vases at a hardware store and bought two of them − one will get broken, right? So, half the problem was solved. I was still talking about "my" rain gauge in March 2008. Who says I don't have patience? It only took us 28 months to get this rain gauge made.

El Jefe talked to several iron workers about making it. Some didn't have the right equipment to do the curves, some didn't want to bother with a small job, and two took our drawing and measurements and just never bothered to make it and lost the drawing. (When will we learn to keep a copy?)

La Gringa's tropical-sized rain gauge, La Ceiba, HondurasWe finally found someone willing to do it. Of course, he completely ignored our drawing and measurements but it turned out nice just the same. The base is about 5 feet (1.5 meters) so that it goes into the ground very deeply and is secure even when the ground is saturated.

El Jefe painted it for me and he was so eager to put it out that I didn't get a chance to mark the inches on it. I'll do that when this rain stops (check back with me in 6 months or so) and in the meantime, I'm carrying a ruler out there to measure.

I like it. I'm happy.

By the way, from sometime early Thursday morning until Friday morning, we had a whopping 16 inches of rain (41 cm.)! And that is a fact, not a guess.

December 12, 2008

Rain, a new river, and missing videos

Rain, La Ceiba, HondurasWhite water in the street

Apparently I have a setting wrong somewhere as I saw that my storm videos from yesterday were not included in the Feedburner email sent out to subscribers. Darn! Please go to the blogicito to see the videos − or at least watch Part III. The flooding was really incredible.

40 days and 40 nights

Or you can go to YouTube and see any of my prior videos that you might have missed:

LaGringa's YouTube Videos

Go ahead and click one of those links. It won't bite, spam you, or steal your identity. I promise!

I reviewed my settings on Blogger and Feedburner and changed the only one which seemed remotely related to videos. Let's see if this one works. Here is a short video of the rain yesterday morning at our house.

Rain at La Gringa's house, 11 December 2008:

If you don't see it in the email, you can click the article title in the email and it will take you here to the Blogicito where you can watch it. If this change doesn't work, I'm at a loss as to what else to do. Does anyone have any suggestions?


By the way, you, too, can sign up to receive Blogicito updates by email so that you don't have to remember to come back to check for new articles, or be disappointed that you came and there was nothing new, as has been the case often lately, I'm afraid.

Just enter your email in the box under the yellow sticky note in the upper right-hand sidebar. Don't forget to respond to the verification email from Feedburner or the subscription won't start − as is the case with about 20 potential subscribers sitting in limbo right now. ;-/

December 11, 2008

40 days and 40 nights

Flooded street, La Ceiba, HondurasWhite caps in the street
La Ceiba, Honduras

Flooded street, La Ceiba, HondurasIt feels like it has rained for 40 days and 40 nights, even though we did get a break this week and had nice warm, sunny weather. (This street corner photo and the one at top are from last month, by El Jefe.)

That was a nice change from this incredible rainy season we have had this year − worse than any in the seven years that I've been here. I felt like spring had arrived. I was thinking about starting some vegetable seeds.

Flooded street, La Ceiba, HondurasToday, however, was the worst day ever. We have received 12 inches (30.5 cm) of rain since early this morning! And it is still raining.

Don't worry about us. Our house is elevated and sitting at the top of a hill with a creek way below us in back and streets sloping away from our house on two sides so no problems for us except the leaking windows, wet drapes and carpets. We haven't even had any trees fall down which often happens when we have heavy rain.

Trash endangering bridge, La Ceiba, HondurasBUT, the flooding has been devastating in some areas around La Ceiba. I've been watching the news all day and many, many people have been flooded out of their homes, many homes have been destroyed, and though not an official report, citizens have reported several drownings to the television stations.

Boy saving his dog,  La Ceiba, HondurasYou have to see the flooding to believe it so I did the hokey, low-tech way of videoing the news. I had a couple of hours which I edited down to three 6-minute videos. Still too long, but if you are interested in La Ceiba, you might watch them all. Part III is probably the best one if you only have time for one.

You had better hurry, though, because YouTube frowns on videoing TV programs and might remove them. I don't know if that applies to Honduran news or not so we will see. I hope I don't get into trouble! I'm only trying to provide a service to those who can't receive Honduran television − at least that is what I'll tell the judge. ;-)

La Ceiba, Honduras, Tropical Storm, Part I:

La Ceiba, Honduras, Tropical Storm, Part II:

La Ceiba, Honduras, Tropical Storm, Part III:

December 5, 2008

Toucans in the back yard

Toucan, La Ceiba, HondurasToucan, La Ceiba, Honduras

Toucan, La Ceiba, HondurasOh, how I love to see toucans! I've been hearing them a lot lately. They have a very distinctive call. But usually they are obscured by tree foliage so I can't get any kind of decent photo.

This one posed for us for several minutes. He very kindly waited while I ran downstairs to get my camera. I took several shots and then he waited again for me to go get the extra batteries after mine went dead. Nice guy, this toucan.

Toucan, La Ceiba, Honduras

While we were watching the toucan, a couple of trees over something furry went running up the trunk. El Jefe said it was a squirrel. I've never seen a squirrel in our garden before and I don't want to either. That was just as my batteries went dead so no photos of him.

These photos aren't great, but I was happy to get them considering how far away the bird was. He was in the fourth tree from the right.

December 4, 2008

Democracy, Honduran style

The Honduran Presidential raceElvin Santos, left; Roberto Micheletti, 3rd from left; Pepe Lobo, 4th from left.
The rest don't matter any more.
Caricature by: Dario Benegas, La Prensa, Honduras

Probably the most interesting and Honduranesque outcome of the Honduran presidential primary elections is that the winner of the Liberal party, current vice president Elvin Santos, is a man who was not even on the ballot!

Since Santos was disqualified from running due to a constitutional technicality, a "placeholder" is running instead. Supposedly, if and when the difficulty is worked out, the placeholder will step aside and name Elvin as the replacement presidential candidate, as is allowed by Honduran law. The constitution has already been modified at least twice to allow disqualified candidates to run, including for the past president Ricardo Maduro whose Honduran citizenship was questioned.

Porfirio (Pepe) Lobo, the winning candidate of the Nacionalista party with a landslide 76% of the vote, is likely to be the next president of Honduras, since it will be the "blues" turn at bat. He was so popular that in at least one aldea (village), he received more votes than there are people. Pepe was the former president of the congress in the previous Nacionalista administration.

I will never forget the first time that I read about Pepe Lobo back in 2002. I read that the congress had voted to "indemnify" certain farmers and ranchers whose farms had been damaged from Hurricane Mitch in 1997 with cash payments of a hundred million or so lempiras.

On the face that sounded good. After all, isn't disaster recovery, albeit 5 years late, a good use of aid money? However, I then looked at the list of the top 10 or so names of recipients. There was Pepe Lobo, president of the congress, at the very top of the list with the largest payment of somewhere around ten million lempiras if I remember correctly. I wasn't familiar enough at the time to recognize the other names, but very likely they all were from the rich ruling class. I was so shocked that, unfortunately, every time I see his face, I still think about that and wonder what other deals he has been involved in that we will never know about.

The previous seemingly favorite of the Liberal party, Roberto Micheletti who is the current president of the congress, received surprisingly few votes. In the past he fought against several measures proposed by unpopular Liberal president Mel Zelaya and insults flew in both directions.

I want to think that the population was wise enough to see that Micheletti shot himself in the foot by apparently making "a deal with the devil" by selling out to Zelaya and Hugo Chávez's ALBA (literally and figuratively) in exchange for political support.

Right after ALBA passed, we were flooded with print and TV campaign ads showing new pals Zelaya and Micheletti with their arms around each other − Not a wise move when much of the population believes that Zelaya is the worst and most corrupt president the country has had in its short history of democratic elections.

I watched election reports all day on Sunday and all night until the stations quit reporting in the early morning hours. My favorite political analyst is Juan Ramón Martínez. By all reports, the Elvinistas had won the Liberal contest with (roughly) 57% of the Liberal vote against Micheletti's 24%, Maldonado's 17%, and a couple of other candidates with about 1% each. Those percentages varied somewhat by area, but were pretty consistent across the board and in total, with approximately 30% of the votes reported.

Surprisingly, the following morning, Channel 10 was reporting Elvin had won, but only with about 52% of the Liberal vote against Micheletti's 43%! Don't you think it is a little suspicious for a count to change by 19 percentage points overnight? I did, but if there was any funny business going on, it was too little and too late. Perhaps it was just a typographical or math error on the part of the TV station, because current results show Micheletti's percentage of the Liberal votes is back down to 27%.

Someone asked for a synopsis of all the candidates and what they stand for. It's really very simple and can be explained by using only a few key words. All candidates are FOR: Change, transparency, jobs, security (against crime), and AGAINST: Corruption. Even the candidates who have become millionaires in office and are currently under investigation for dozens of denuncias (complaints) of corruption against them run on a platform of fighting corruption! Yeah, right!, say the people.

The head of the OAS (Organization of American States) election monitoring team, interviewed before the election, stated that 70 volunteers would be traveling around to some of the 5,306 polling places to determine whether the elections are fair and free. If by "fair and free", they mean that they verify that the polls are open and that there are a supply of ballots, yes, they will see those things. They won't see any voters with a gun to their head or squads of armed military personnel preventing voters from entering the polls. They won't see poll workers filling out ballots, though it reportedly happened when the observers weren't around. But do those short visits to some of the polls assure the world that the elections are fair, free, and democratic or is that just a public relations "show"?

The day after the primary elections, the television news was fantastically self-congratulating about how honest and transparent the elections were and even went so far as to state that official observers made glowing reports about how the Honduras elections should be a model to all of Latin America. Needless to say, I was shocked at that statement. I almost became a believer (I always have that little ray of Pollyanna hope in me) − for a few minutes anyway (but the realist in me usually wins out). Then the head of the OAS election observation team was interviewed.

I'll paraphrase since it was in Spanish and I didn't write it down, but here is the basic flavor. The reporter excitedly asked "Is this the most transparent and democratic election that Honduras has ever held?!" The head of the observation team replied, "Well, what we saw was adequate." I could see that the reporter was taken aback, no doubt from believing his own TV station's propaganda. So then he said, "But it's true that Honduras' election procedures should be used as a shining example to the whole world of how to run an honest and organized election, right?" The interviewee flatly stated, "No. We can say that the election procedures were adequate." Who knows what the final report will actually say after it is tweaked by all the parties involved, but the word 'adequate' is a direct translation.

As the days pass, more complaints of election fraud and irregularities have been filed and/or made to the media. Some citizens were prevented from voting. Some poll directors didn't show up or left early. Citizens were prevented from viewing the ballot counts at some polling places. Some polls opened late or closed early. The polling time was extended until 6:00 p.m., but the first official results were reported at 4:57 p.m.

According to this article by Scuba Geek, the current mayor who is a mayoral candidate on the island of Roatán was jailed for blocking the airport with his bulldozer to prevent an airplane full of paid voters from landing. You might applaud this "stand against corruption" until you learn that the mayor's own planeload of imported non-Roatán resident Honduran voters had already landed earlier in the day.

One candidate for mayor on the island of Roatán filed a complaint of election fraud because his photo was not included on the ballot, even though he says that the photo was submitted in time and met the requirements. A suspicious shadowy head on the ballot instead of a smiling photo is a definite disadvantage in a country where a large percentage of the population is illiterate.

La Prensa (December 4) is full of various complaints and charges of irregularities. Oh, I won't list all the election problems, because it really isn't important. The big fraud goes on behind the scenes before and after the voters get involved. The voters are just window dressing so that the oligarchy can proclaim democracy and transparency to the world and continue to rake in the international aid.

It just isn't true that Honduran voters can change their government. Not the way the system works now. The system is so corrupt to the core that many Hondurans just don't even bother to vote. Two fascinating older articles are a must read for anyone wanting to get an understanding of some of what goes on behind the political scenes. Bonus: both are in English.

Lorenzo Belveal's article "Democracy" Honduras style is 11 years old, but except for a change in the impunity law, not much has changed. Politicians are no longer granted immunity from all crimes − and I do mean ALL. The previous law protected politicians from prosecution, no matter how blatent the crime, up to and including murder, and yes, that is not a hypothetical. Murdering politicians were not prosecuted. On the books, that is no longer the case. In practice, it still goes on. If you want to learn about the real Honduras, prepare to spend hours reading his website. He is a fascinating guy.

The Formal/Real Government Contradiction is discussed by Ismael Moreno, a Honduran writer who is currently involved with Movimiento Amplia para la Dignidad y la Justicia (Dignity and Justice Movement), an organization that I would really like to see succeed. Moreno has several in-depth articles about Honduras on the Envio site which are well worth reading including Pact of Impunity Around the (2005) Elections.

The Honduran Director of Human Rights went on the record a few days before the election saying that any international or national observers who say that the elections are a fraud are being disrespectful to Honduras. How's that for intimidation?

Election reforms were passed in 2007 and were revised again in February 2008. To be honest, I didn't even look up the law as I normally do, because I know that anything the lawmakers could possibly come up with, can and will be circumvented by the clever corruptos.

One control, for example, as fellow Honduran blogger AJ mentioned, is that the pinkie finger is inked after voting so that duplicate votes cannot be made − my sources tell me that a manner of eliminating the ink was found long before election day. I hate having this fatalistic attitude, but until honor is valued more by Honduran society than "beating the system", that is the way it is going to be.

The population of Honduras is somewhere around 7.5 million. Approximately 4.5 million citizens are eligible to vote, of which current estimates are that approximately 1.2 million live outside the country and are not allowed to vote absentee. Currently, though still classified as preliminary, results show that 965,000 citizens voted, or at least their ID cards did. Not a bad turnout for a primary election. Results won't be official for up to two weeks.

Related article: How much is your vote worth?
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