flaming surf

so much to explore...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My attempt to create an entire recreation program is moving forward with baby steps... but at least it's moving. Last night we had about 8 people at the yoga class I've been teaching Tuesday nights. English class (don't tell CIDA) also has been popular, and next week I think I'll start teaching jiu-jitsu and guitar classes as well. Not that I'm an expert at any of this stuff, but it's better than nothing.

Entertaining cross-cultural confusion: I had this great idea to make corn husk dolls with the kids, so I went off and chatted up a corn on the cob vendor to donate a big bag of husks, made a sample doll, was feeling quite pleased with myself to have found another cheap and fun activity for the kids… when Claudia, one of the volunteers, saw my doll and freaked out because apparently corn husks dolls are similar to the dolls made by brujas (witches) to stick pins into. Oops. Hello, parents, send your kids to the Ludo teca so that the gringa can teach them witchcraft… just what I´m aiming for! However, after checking with a few other volunteers (who had no idea what Claudia was talking about) and changing the doll´s arm position from cross-like (apparently that´s bad) to holding a corn husk baby (apparently moms are less likely to be witches), we steered clear of any controversy (as far as I know…). In any case, the kids had a great time making beautiful and creative corn husk people and animals.

Buses: Ever wonder what happens to those yellow school buses when they´re too sketchy to take on the roads in Canada and the US? Well, those school buses find a second life in Tegucigalpa, where they get artistically painted names like ¨Black Storm¨, ¨Dios es Amor¨, ¨Rocky¨ or ¨José y Angelina¨, plus a liberal smattering of religious and skeleton-themed decorations, orange and purple flames, and perhaps a new sound system to blast reggaeton at the passengers. As for the passengers, well… If you´re lucky you find a seat - sure, the fake leather is falling off and your knees are knocking against bare metal – but at least you´re sitting. More likely, you´ll end up standing in the center aisle with half the population of Honduras. Well, standing isn´t the right word, because actually you can barely feel the floor and you´re being held up by the pack of people squeezed against you. Since you can´t see out the windows, you better know the route pretty well by other clues like potholes, sharp turns and hills where the brakes consistently squeal. What are some of the roads like? Picture the worst road you know in Canada, the sort of road that a fairly brave person might consider driving in a four wheel drive. Now add a 45 degree angle to that road, slanty houses and deep drainage ditches along either side, a good number of sharp turns plus traffic zigzagging in all directions, and that´s sort of what the roads to the colonias are like. And we´re not talking about minor roads – these are roads that thousands of people travel on each day. The highways and streets downtown are different of course, but because the general ¨urban planning¨ approach here is for people to simply build shanties on the hills, luxuries like water, electricity and decent streets are slow to follow. Very slow… Colonia San Francisco has been here for 30 or so years, and while well-developed compared to newer colonias, I don´t know that the government will ever bother improving the roads. But back to buses… Besides a driver, each bus has one or two extra guys who jump out frequently to direct the bus around turns too tight to make in one go, stop incoming traffic when necessary, collect money (3 lempiras per bus, which is about 25 cents), pack people in more tightly, and let them out the back when necessary. Because if you´re standing towards the end of a bus, the only way to get out is to bang on the metal roof, yell ¨proxima¨ and then scramble across people to the emergency exit door, where the bus guys cavalierly offer their arms to jump down. Never a dull moment. In all honesty, underneath all the chaos and terrifying near misses, the public transit here (though mostly privately owned) is impressively orderly in its own strange way.

Hmm, what else to tell? The catcalls haven´t exactly slowed down, but at least the guys in my immediate neighbourhood are starting to feel possessive/protective of their local extrangera and tell off other guys if they bother me. I guess that´s good. And then there was that cop who almost fell down an escalator with his machine gun because he was so busy staring at me. But meh, on the whole it´s fairly entertaining. And speaking of cops, I need to try taking some pictures of the police cars here because you won´t believe me otherwise… basically, picture a rusty truck with a somewhat legible state emblem on the door and six or eight guys in grey camouflage with big guns hanging out in the back of the truck. I´m not exactly sure what they achieve by driving around the city looking fierce and checking out the female population, but I´m not about to discuss it more closely with them. I´ve only noticed one female cop in the month that I´ve been here. She must be one strong woman to put up with all the macho crap in the police force. And speaking of noticing people, other than the capoeira folks, I could count on my fingers how many foreigners I´ve seen in Teguc in the past month. It´s probably more due to where I live and work – and because this hardly is a tourist destination – but it´s still kind of interesting.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Quick little update from Teguc... This evening I´m thoroughly exhausted and have a rather wicked sunburn from playing basketball and futbolito for about 5 hours in the fierce sun. What was I thinking... but dang, it was fun :) Ditto for the ride home in a pick-up truck with about 10 guys. Not sure if it´s better to be at the receiving end of catcalls or sitting in the same truck as the guys catcalling every young female in sight... but at least when I´m with them, I can give them the raised eyebrow and shake of the head.

Yesterday we had a fun get-together/party at the Ludo teca with about 25 volunteers. Games, food, speeches, and much dancing. I´ll never be able to shake my booty like the folks here when they´re dancing reggaeton. But a bit of rum and a guitar is also a lot of fun.

I seem to have found myself a loyal crew of guardian angels/lovely lads who walk me home most days and then hang out at the house talking for hours. Cesar, Francisco and Wilmer... my three musketeers. We have big plans for yoga, judo and pancake feasts this week.

Adios, amigos, I´m off to fall into bed, slightly sunstroked and very happy.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Halloween has come and gone with nary a trick or treater in sight. Instead, we had the Dias de los Muertos... everyone goes to visit their dead relatives in the cemeteries. One days is for niños and the other for adults. However, at times it´s hard to find the relatives, because apparently everything from tombstones to plaques gets stolen throughout the year.

Speaking of thievery... There are two other Canadian interns working with local organizations, they’ve been here for about 3 months, and the one girl has been robbed twice and the other four times. They live in a much nicer area of town (aka one where it’s worth robbing people), but it still made me a little bit more paranoid. The result is that when I’m walking around town, I’m so excessively alert/paranoid thatif a friend taps me on the shoulder, I might turn around with fists swinging before I can recognize them. Oh dear. Ah well, if nothing I’m cultivating my ¨don ’t mess with me¨ aura.

However, this aura only has limited success with discouraging men. I can more or less handle walking around with constant buzz of compliments behind me (preciosa, hermosa, beautiful girl, baby take me to America, etc). At times it’s even entertaining. But the guys suddenly demonstrate sufficient English skills to talk in great detail about how they want to fuck me; well, it’s a lot less cool. On one or two days I’ve felt like the next little catcall would be the last straw and result in the guy being permanently terrified of gringas. Luckily, Normandy and Alison (the other Canadian interns) introduced me to this amusing theory that Latin men are actually scared of women because they have small penises, and so the guys only heckle women in order to feel a fleeting sense of power. So now I walk down the street laughing to myself about this theory, which doesn’t exactly help discourage the guys (smiling has always been my downfall), but at least it makes me feel better.

Winter has arrived in Honduras. Pleasant temperature (for me... locals are dealing with the ´chilly´ 20 degree temperature by wearing big coats and scarves). Winter is also the rainy season. Fortunately it only starts to rain in the early evening, but wow, it’s more like a waterfall than rain falling from the sky for a few hours. The main road that leads to the colonia of San Francisco (and about ten or twelve other colonies) becomes an insane river of gushing mud, water and rocks, with ruts that are several feet deep. Needless to say, driving becomes very complicated aka near to impossible. Yesterday we waited at the ACJ for several hours for the rain to slow down (so that a taxi would actually go to San Fran). After playing silly games until about 9pm to pass the time (there may have been some dancing on tables, exchanging of clothes, howling like wild animals, and perhaps the president did a little striptease for the secretary), we wanted to go home. After an epic trek across the city that started by taxi, progressed to a sketchier busito and ended with us slogging up along the river-like road past cars that had been swept right into the ditches. Never a dull moment!

Speaking of which, little ordinary everyday things like walking down the street are inevitably made more lively by uncovered manholes, gutters that are 4 feet deep, and of course the traffic that I can´t even describe. Watching the kids here play would send most Canadian municipalities running to the lawyers... most futbol games seem to involve dodging broken glass (barefoot of course), or playing in a tiny alley bristling with rusty nails. I just try to take a deep breath and have my first aid kit handy.

A few nights ago I went to an art show opening at the Hispanic Cultural centre. Live music, drinks, evening gowns, big balcony with view of the city lights... it was like stepping into a different world for a few hours. Well, in some ways... the guys still wanted to chat up the gringa, but they were a bit less blunt about it. Such a big gap between lifestyles here... either living like royalty or struggling for a few lempiras a day.

At work I´ve been at the Ludo teca most days. At times the other volunteers show up a bit sporadically, so occasionally I find myself in charge of 30 or so screaming young ´uns. Luckily I´ve found that they love colouring, so I draw horses and other things at lightning speed, and they run off and colour them. Who knew that those years of doodling in my math books would come in handy like this? I´m hoping to organize a day camp for the long Christmas break (mid November to end of February). Other ideas on the horizon are yoga classes, self-defense/jiu-jitsu, clases de ingles for the volunteers (don´t tell anyone!), and arts and crafts workshops. At times I feel a bit isolated at the Ludo teca, so I´m hoping to eventually also get more involved with the youth programs at the main office, maybe for one day a week. And yes, the volunteers have been working hard to teach me the punta, a Honduran dance that involves shaking all body parts at a ridiculous speed. Gotta work on that one...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Experienced my first Honduran earthquake yesterday evening, strangely enough while praying at the end of a meeting with ACJ volunteers. Maybe the praying helped - nothing collapsed, the earth just sort of shivered for a bit. Apparently we had a few more wobbles last night, but I slept through it all. If even an earthquake won´t wake me, maybe that´s a sign that I´m too sound a sleeper! Fingers crossed for the earth staying quiet.

Experienced my first Honduran earthquake yesterday evening, strangely enough while praying at the end of a meeting with ACJ volunteers. Maybe the praying helped - nothing collapsed, the earth just sort of shivered for a bit. Apparently we had a few more wobbles last night, but I slept through it all. If even an earthquake won´t wake me, maybe that´s a sign that I´m too sound a sleeper! Fingers crossed for the earth staying quiet.

Friday, October 27, 2006

I´ve posted some pics - for some reason I can´t get them on my blog, but the link should work.

What else to tell? I´m living in a new house, in Colonia San Francisco. It has running water and a little garden and no sewage running across the path to the house. Talk about luxury! I have my own little room and washroom, and feel like I´m in a different world. Also feel guilty, that it´s so easy for me to move to this different world, but me catching dengue or cholera or getting mugged also won´t help change the world.

Funny stories: Well, there was that security guard who decided to show off to the gringa by spinning his pistol in his hand... and then accidentally dropping it on the sidewalk right between our feet. Luckily it didn´t go off. Can´t say the gringa was very impressed. There´s also a lot of creepy taxi drivers, but at least their weaponry is concealed.

Work is going well. Basically it looks like I´m supposed to create the recreation program for the ACJ of Honduras from scratch. A little overwhelming but also very cool. I have so many ideas... hope I can make them happen. At least some of them!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Warning: This is long! But hopefully entertaining :)

So where to start?! I´ve been here for about 10 days
now, and I´m delighted to report that I haven´t been
sick as a dog yet. Inspite of eating more street food
and fruit than perhaps is recommended by the average
travel doctor. No doubt it´ll catch up with me
eventually, but for now I´m thankful for a strong
belly and to have spent my first week in a functional
state. Not counting my disfunctional Spanish skills...

Spanish update: Well, when some people talk, I
understand every word and feel quite capable and
smart. Then when other people talk (the fast mumbly
kind), I feel utterly stupid and like I´m listening to
a different language. But things are definitely
improving, step by step.

Food: Turns out that I like beans and tortillas. Which
is good, because that´s what we eat three times a day,
sometimes with a bit of egg or cheese to spice things
up. I´m going to work on eating a bit more of a varied
diet though. Well, I did have tripe soup by accident
that one time... mmm, animal guts.

The housing situation: I´m definitely living in a poor
area. We get running water twice a week, on Wednesdays
and Sundays. We sort of have a flush toilet, at least
it flushes by dumping a bucket of water from the well
down the toilet. The whole area smells rather nasty,
because the kids and men pee just about everywhere.
Surely they could at least stick to using trees?!
Having some trees and green space around is very
welcome, and the air is somewhat better than the smog
we can hovering above downtown. The TV is *always* on.
I don´t think that soap operas, Honduran or otherwise,
will ever be my thing. The house is generally a state
of disaster, with clothes, a broken bike, kids
underfoot everywhere, thick spiderwebs in the corners,
water from the drinking jugs dripping on the floor.
Some things I can fix, others are a bit harder. I
spend a lot of time folding clothes and scrubbing when
I´m in the house, but I feel like it barely makes a
difference. There´s a lot of interesting wildlife, but
luckily I´m not particularly bothered by cockroaches.

The kids are amazing... huge smiles, playful, and
incredibly happy about the smallest things that I
usually take for granted, e.g. pencil sharperners,
band-aids, crayons... They treat the markers and
crayons that I brought them as if they were gold.
We´ve had some wild games of soccer in the cemetary,
the only flat ground around... not counting the
gravestones that we have to jump over and play around.
One of the very cute little 4 year olds has decided
that I´m the coolest thing around to climb on and
cuddle with. The neighbourhood kids are only a couple
years older, but I´ve seen them staggering along the
street, carrying heavy rusty scrap metal to sell for a
few lempira. One of the older girls, 11 year old Iris,
is quite enterprising and has started a mini
landscaping business of tidying gravesites for people
at 30 lempira each (about $1.50). Even after spending
the day doing work that no kid should ever have to do,
they run around with a crazy amount of energy. Leaping
barefoot around the steep ravine like monkeys, holding
up their too-big hand-me-down pants with one hand so
they can run without tripping, zigzagging between the
chickens and sleeping dogs.

Speaking of chickens, I´ve had to chase a few chickens
from under my bed. However, those chickens live a
dangerous life - yesterday morning when I woke up at
6am, the grandma was plucking a newly killed chicken
on our front step. I think I might be living a
dangerous life too... Two of our neighbours are
desperate alcoholics, and one is in jail for killing
someone, getting out in a few months. Apparently taxis
refuse to go to my neighbourhood at night. And a
number of locals have said that it´s one of the
sketchiest neighbourhoods to live in. But other people
have said that the neighbouring colonia is more
dangerous because they actually have well-organized
gangs. Ha, that´s where I´ll be working.

I think I´ll end up moving, but my moldy, stifling
cell of a room is a bigger factor than the sketchy
neighbourhood. I can handle the idea of sketchy
people, but I can´t live without breathable air. In
spite of some tempting housing invitations from other
Canadian interns (with promises of space for a
capoeira studio!), I do want to keep living with a
local family. I´m probably going to move in with
Marco, of the other ACJ staff and his family. They
live in a colonia called San Francisco, much dustier,
less sketchy, actual houses, all perched on a
mind-bogglingly steep hill, and closer to work and a
fun crew of ACJ volunteers. It´s going to be hard to
explain this move to my ´first´ family who have been
so welcoming to me and have shared everything they
have even when they have so little. I´ll definitely
keep visiting my little bros and sisters, but I feel
intensely guilty that it´s so easy for me to move to
an easier place to live.

OK, some lighter news: I had my first trip through the
city in the back of a pick up truck like a proper
local. I´ve always had a huge weak spot for the back
of pick-up trucks :) Something about the wind and sun
and being safely squished between to solid Honduran
lads, sprawled across a pile of bricks. And unloading
the bricks was also kind of fun... apparently my arms
(ok, I know they´re not small) are about twice the
size of the average Honduran guy´s arms, and everyone
wanted to know if I was a hockey star etc... funny to
feel like a celebrity just because I´m from elsewhere.
Speaking of which...

Catcalls: OK, can someone explain to me why when
average ol´ me is walking along the street, wearing
baggy jeans and running shoes, I still get a million
more catcalls than all the local women who are always
dressed to the nines in tight skirts, trendy tops and
high heels?! It just don´t make sense. Surely there
are more interesting women to catcall?

And about that eye contact thing: So I´d been pretty
good about not making eye contact. I was even quite
proud of myself. But then yesterday one of the guys at
the ACJ had this great smile, and whenever I looked
over at his smile, he´d be looking at me, and needless
to say it became a vicious cycle of long-distance
flirting for the whole afternoon. Well, turns out he´s
only 19 years old. Probably not a good idea. But he is
very cute when he pulls out the random English (and
German!) phrases. Apparently I have a beautiful eye.
After laughing very hard and then having to explain
myself, he corrected himself and said that both my
eyes are beautiful. Oh dear.

Weekend roadtrip: On Sunday, Marco and his family took
me to a lovely little mountain town called Santa
Lucia, about a 30 minute drive from Tegucigalpa. It
was wonderful to taste clean fresh air, see the
exuberant greenery and amazing flowers, walk along
quiet cobblestone streets instead of dodging
Tegucigalpan cars in a duststorm. The only thing to
look out for was the two guys galloping their horses
down the main street. I´m looking forward to exploring
more in the next months.

I´ll leave you with some random facts about Honduras:
About 60% of people live on less than a dollar a day.
25% of the country´s GNP comes from money that migrant
workers (legal and not) send back to their families.
Apparently 80% of the population is illiterate. And
there´s so many things that hinder any chance of
change... For example, one of the ACJ guys I´ve been
hanging out with has a small construction business,
and he has to pay a big chunk of tax on his minimal
profits, while huge multinational corporations are
allowed - and encouraged - to just walk in, set up
maquilas with starvation-level wages and subhuman work
conditions, all without paying a cent of taxes. It´s
fucked up. Changing all of this is going to take many lifetimes.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Here I am in Honduras. The hairiest part of the trip was the excessively long and complicated security process to get into the US... though yes, the landing at the airport was also quite interesting! The plane sort of swoops down across the mountains and makes a big low loop across rooftop so close that I probably could´ve thrown a rock at them, and then somehow miraculously lands on a tiny strip of flat ground right in the city limits. The plane from Miami to Teguc was full of blond, baby-faced Mormon missionaries in matching black suits... and Tegucigalpa´s lively and not-hard-on-the-eyes professional soccer team Olympia... a rather entertaining mix! Luckily I was sitting beside a soccer player rather than someone trying to save my soul :)

So... I´m living in a hillside barrio called 21 de Febrero, with a 20 year old ACJ volunteer named Darwin and his extended family (mom, aunt, uncle, grandma, many cousins, some cats, dogs and chickens). They live in four little houses (concrete squares with two or three rooms) that are close together, shared between with about 10 kids and 5 adults. It´s right above a big cemetary and tucked away in a steep little ravine, so it´s nice and quiet, and has a good view of the valley and the main city. (I´m hoping for no big rainstorms - not a good place to be in a landslide). The houses definitely are basic - cold water, creative/questionable plumbing, minimal furniture. No books or windows - but every house has its own TV... what a twisted world we live in! I have my own room, a bed and a dresser, which is more than I have when I´m working as a guide, so hey. The ceiling of my room was pretty moldy (not fun to sleep under) but after spending the morning re-arranging my room so I can least can open the wooden window a bit, and giving the ceiling a good scrub with bleach, I hope it´ll be better. The family is very nice and especially the kids are wonderful (and they get a big kick out of when I speak Spanish, grin). It´s good living with them, but it´ll be a major miracle if I make it through 6 months without getting sick. Fingers crossed. Very crossed.

What else to tell? Inspite of all the warnings, I´ve only been cat-called once so far (´welcome to Honduras, baby!´)... even in English, how considerate ;) Took my first sort of chicken bus (no chickens though). Apparently this is where yellow school buses go when they´re too old to be used at home in Canada. It was nice to have Darwin along for sure - more or less balanced out the fact that the guy on my other side was sporting an impressive array of gang paraphanelia (Tanya, my housemate in Montreal helpfully got me up-to-speed on recognising all the different gangs by their colours and clunky bling-bling).

Today is my first time at the ACJ and I´ve met many people and sat in on some of the ´formacion ciudadana´ for youths and gave my first introductory speech in Spanish. It´s good to be here :) More stories to follow!