Friday, 12 August 2016

Mexicans, drugs and what the Hondurans have to say on them...

Sat teaching English to some youths the other day we entered into a discussion on Central America which quickly went from slow, broken English to fast and furious Honduran style Spanish. The Hondurans have always (from those I've met) told me that Central Americans should band together and unite - as they were historically in the former Central American Republic of the 19th century. Mexico however, is always left out of the equation. They don't include Mexicans with themselves, Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Costa Ricans or Panamanians... I asked 'why?' during our chat.

'No llevamos bien a veces con Mexicanos' explained one of the students. 'We don't get on very well with Mexicans sometimes' he said. Probing further, the boys explained to me that Mexicans apparently look down on Hondurans and behave as if they're superior when engaging with them. The accent too that Mexicans have (which I personally love) was ridiculed as well. What is interesting is that I have heard the same things said about Mexicans by friends I made in Spain from El Salvador. North Americans - or rather most that I've met - have nothing good to say about Mexicans either. We probably all know that already anyway - look at Donald Trump's progress. Personally, I feel much injustice. I cannot begin to fathom why there is so much dislike towards them amongst Latinos and outside cultures such as North Americans. Surely an accent isn't a reason...

Another time when sat in one of my favourite beach bars here in El Porvenir, that time with an entirely different group of local young people, we had a similar yet different conversation. The subject (a very common theme being as for the last few decades it's been such a current affair) was 'Los Narcos' or the drugs trade in Latin America. The teenage boys and University-aged girl covered how in Honduras the drugs grown and produced for exportation in countries like Bolivia and Peru - simply pass through their country. This being as they are on route to the USA, the end destination of all trafficked narcotics from Latin America. A decided proportion every year does also make its way around the world - much of the Cocaine hitting Europe with Spanish/Latino, Italian and Eastern European criminal organizations polluting the continent with the white filth. The youths confirmed what I have heard and read countless times - that it is the Mexican and Colombian Cartels who run the show within Latin America. This has been the way since the late 1980's. Central American street gangs are simply hired or 'used' to move the drugs from South America and up into the hands of their Mexican employers. These being the people who don't mess around. Not that the Central American gangbangers are a pushover - quite the contrary. I believe though going back to Mexicans having such a presence in organized crime, that this is another reason as to why they are not held in a great regard due to the 'Narco Cultura' that exists there (Mexico). The truth of the matter is that this is a Latin American problem - affecting most of the nations within South and Central America including The Caribbean. If only the nations could all come together and develop an affective, united strategy to eliminate the drugs situation. Easier said than done quite obviously, as this isn't just about tackling drugs but also the poverty, lack of opportunity and industry, corruption etc...Se pagan en Dollares...' said a friend of mine. 'They pay in Dollars...'

Photo: Mara Salvatrucha gangbangers. A street gang born in the ghettos of Los Angeles, this now huge Hispanic street gang runs the drugs, prostitution and all other vices in Central American nations like Honduras. The name means 'Salvadoran Army Ants' in El Salvador slang.

Photo: Mexican Mafia inmates in some US Penitentiary. The controllers and large scale organizers of the drugs trafficking into the States - alongside their heavy South American counterparts from Colombia.


Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Interesting points from a taxi driver

I had to take a taxi into La Ceiba recently, which turned into an interesting trip on account of the taxi driver. Coming out of the town El Porvenir we passed up many people I know - this giving off the impression to the driver I think that I was Honduran. He started to speak to me in a very local 'dialect' which unfortunately soon lost me - his usage of the word 'va' (to go) for example being quite sporadic as is common in people's speech here. It truly makes no sense to me and serves as a good example as to why I sometimes struggle to understand Spanish here - the word 'va' is used a lot to end sentences yet also changes something said into a question when delivered in a certain tone. When he asked me where I was from - I replied 'Inglaterra'. After pulling a face of interest he continued with something like 'desde muy lejos entonces va'. What peculiar Spanish I thought, this translating into English as 'from very far away then - go'... As if the word choice (the random usage of 'go' to end a sentence) wasn't confusing enough, it becomes all the more tricky to comprehend the first time round when delivered in the thick, fast and heavily abbreviated Caribbean accent - sounding phonetically like - 'de'de muy le'o endonce' ba'. The outsider's 'back to base word' (an American expression I've heard here and rather like) should always be 'como?' or 'come again?'

I found though, that as we got into it I could understand what he was saying better. Shades on, moustached and very dark skinned - the Taxista couldn't have appeared any more stereotypically Central American. He began the conversation by asking what England is like - if the work there is plentiful, if we make a lot of money and what it's like compared to Honduras. I gave him my personal opinion and told him that there's much employment (particularly amongst the young generation), the country is cold (in all senses of the word), frankly boring and lacks any real culture. In comparison to Honduras in terms of natural beauty and the people - one can't compare the two. Honduras is blessed with immense beauty and Hondurans are (on the whole) a charming people. However in conclusion, I stated that the two places are so vastly different it's almost impossible to compare anything, we were talking about two different worlds. What made the conversation so intriguing though, is that he sounded about as 'patriotic' of his country as I do of mine. Home is where the heart is anyway.

Driving past the pineapple fields, which employ the vast majority of men in the area, he started telling me of the injustices existing for the Honduran worker. 'Los muchachos, tienen que trabajar muchisimas horas por casi nada sabes...Los Jefes pagan como un hijo de puta mon!' His plain description of how 'guys have to work many, many hours for close to nothing and that the bosses pay like a son of a bitch' couldn't have spelt it out much better. I have seen these men from teenage years to old age, those who work in construction, fruit harvesting, road works etc...I have seen them out at all hours in the fierce heat breaking their backs for absolutely nothing. Their poor physical conditions showing this. He continued explaining that only a few options exist for a Honduran - he spoke more for men than women. As I understood, the options are that you can drive a taxi, work in construction, work in the fields, fish...or maybe try your luck up north - The United States of America. He himself had also tried the latter but explained that he was eventually deported . That taxi driver was the second person I've met so far who has told me they were deported after working illegally in the States.

After discussing the many negatives of going north to the US as well as all the terrible things North Americans have committed in Latin America...we arrived at a police checkpoint. I asked him (on our being let through) what he thought of the Honduran police. 'Todos son coruptos mano' or 'they are all corrupt bro'. I left it at that. We soon moved onto other things, he agreed that his country is remarkably beautiful and that Hondurans are a good people however his contempt for the political and economical situation was made clear. I could see that things were probably hard for him - having to drive around all day searching what must seem like an endless barrage of streets, lanes and highways for passengers before then driving them where they want which probably entails taking some crap off the inevitable idiot here and there stepping in his vehicle. After a whole day of this, he probably then gives most of his money earned to some boss who sits behind a desk - doing nothing. That's what I saw as he sat there driving and telling me what was what in Honduras and how hard if not impossible it is to 'get ahead'...

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

New shoes for deprived children in El Porvenir

Last Friday at the HCA, we had the great joy of being able to hold yet another 'shoe giving day' alongside the NGO 'Soles 4 Souls'.
Tiffany Johnson, leader of the partner organization, arrived at the El Porvenir Firestation on Friday morning with a team of five volunteers. HCA international volunteers (from the countries USA, UK, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Austria, Finland and Honduras) were already at the scene playing with scores of excited children alongside the local firemen.
The two organizations proceeded to line up the many children and measure their feet before carefully allocating them brand new shoes of the correct sizes. All volunteers were heavily involved throughout the day covering a wide range of tasks from measuring shoe sizes to photographing the event. Two locations were worked - starting at the Firestation in the morning and then moving to Barrio de El Mitch in the afternoon. The latter being regarded as El Porvenir's most deprived neighborhood. A truly wonderful day it was, bringing both volunteers and the community perfectly together. Most imortantly, hundreds of in need children - now have new shoes. No more coming to our classes barefoot!


Sunday, 17 July 2016

In El Porvenir

The sea lies peacefully out front. It sits there calmly, wave after wave rolling gently over the expanse of tropical, light blue or at times grey water - itself populated by an outstanding abundance of creatures from the Barracuda to the Pelicans. Local fisherman every now and again impressively haul in the former. They take to the Caribbean coastline of Atl├íntida department, northern Honduras, in their dugout canoes - all products of the surrounding jungles. Many stout, ancient trees such as the Mahogany can be found deep inside these tropical forests which so engulf the landscape within this zone of the country. They (Mahogany) are not used for the canoes though as the days of Mahogany felling went out with Piracy. The latter does still occur at times yet not in the same fashion as the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This being an intriguing chapter of Honduran or rather Caribbean history.

Photo: An excellent example of the Honduran hardwoods found in the forests here

There on the beaches commune the fishermen as they smoke La Juana, talk shit and drink beers (Salva Vida - the Honduras national cerveza) whilst then more often than not ending up in squabbles amongst each other. As I write this from the beach house I can hear one calling another 'hijo de puta' or a 'son of a bitch'. These poverty stricken fishermen sit under the shade near our house in a pitiful state.

Local mothers take their children to La Playa for a swim. This being a perfect opportunity for them to get themselves and the children out of the house and away from the merciless heat that so pursues us all in the town. Women here however, do not sport bikinis as they are considered quite taboo. A stark contrast to other Latin American countries such as Brazil or Colombia. Honduran society is more conservative in general - thus making women cover up on the beaches. A lady seen in this kind of outfit within a public zone is seen in the same light as her going simply naked.
Photo: Posing on the beach, Honduran national team shirt (football) with cabanas
and mountains/jungle in the background

Beach huts, palm-thatched and wooden poled constructions known in Spanish as 'Cabanas' are to be seen plotted along the beaches. These are the beach side bars and restaurants cum nightclubs frequented solely by locals or perhaps every once and again by the token gringo or middle-class Hondurans who come from La Ceiba at weekends. At the end of the beach there is a large river running from the sea mouth at its end and then all the way from there up into the mountains. The mountains stand high and mighty in the not so far distance, they appear as the giant lush, green defenders of El Porvenir. They are nature's guardians who so protect the town and its people down below with the huge shielding effect they seem to hold on the landscape. The mountains appear gigantic as one looks up on them from the beach zone, densely forested with the odd waterfall cascading spectacularly from high up in those forested hills. They are remarkable visible, especially so when it rains and the mountains appear a strong shade of dark blue.

Photo: My favourite place. The river looking towards the mountains behind

The La Ceiba bus storms into town, its driver blasting the horn excessively in his attempt to alert the townsfolk of his llegada or arrival. People pack into these chicken buses, a bright and colourful ethnic mix of Indios, Negros, Mestizos and Blancos filling the tightly cramped seats. Music fills the air as one passes mountains, rivers, plantation fields and bustling cities. Musica Latina or Jamaican/Caribbean tracks pump from the driver's speakers at his side. He is one of a three man team formed of a fare collector, the driver and then his assistant. The assistant always appears to sit and enjoy a good laugh. The fare collector is arguably the busiest as he helps passengers on and off the bus, collects the fare prices (you just pay the sum - there are no tickets given) and then hands out the change. He chucks copious amounts of change between his hands as he wobbles between the seats. La Ceiba is where I always go on the bus, this city is the region's capital and is further known as the 'party capital' of Honduras.

The streets of El Porvenir are flat. This is the most obvious and important note that one could make about them. There are simply no hills in the town - being strikingly different to the places I saw in Lempira department, western Honduras during my first time in this extraordinary country. Atl├íntida and Lempira are two very different places with actually very little in common. Strays dogs wander the streets as carefree as the little children. Sometimes the dogs appear in better shape than the children. A clear result of the poverty here. The poverty however doesn't impact the happiness of the children, they are constantly at the ready to come running up and give you a hug or ask for a piggyback to whether they're headed. Their glowing smiles come always with an 'Hola senor gringo!'
Photo: The flat streets of El Porvenir

The tut-tut cabs wobble around precariously through the quiet streets of El Porvenir,
occasionally overtaken by a bus or a city taxi. These small, red, three-wheeled vehicles are definitely something that will characterize the tourist's time in Honduras. The houses here are all extremely different. You can encounter a large villa style building next to a shack. The dirt poor live by side by side the wealthy. Those who make money stay in the same neighbourhood it would appear - 'a look what I've achieved' attitude existing amongst some.

Photo: A typical shack found in the poorer sections of the town

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Confusing attitudes towards black people

Whilst being here for over a month now, I have at times heard some rather appalling or frankly strange remarks about black people or persons - here in El Porvenir. To begin with, one must look at the history to understand the present. The history of black people on Honduras being an intriguing chapter of Latin America's journey. Here in the north coast zone of Honduras - blacks hardly got off to a good start.

At first, they came as nothing more than slave labour - 'imported' by the British from nearby colonies (late 19th to early 20th centuries) such as Jamaica and 'British Honduras' (now Belize) to work on either fruit plantations or in logging camps. Mahogany was the prized hardwood, the territory of modern day Belize was in fact founded by Scottish pirates who created 'logging colonies' - an extremely profitable venture and undoubtedly safer than Piracy. The Spanish had of course left a handful of Negros on the Honduran coast yet they were outnumbered by the English or rather Creole speaking blacks.

Honduran workers, many of them being migrants from inland regions such as Olancho, were employed on the plantations. Whilst the British became less of a force and their presence dwindled in the region of the Central American Caribbean, the North Americans stepped in. Notably with their fruit companies. Notorious organizations such the United Fruit Company based out of New Orleans started making a name for themselves. There is a good book I read on the subject entitled 'Banana Cultures' by John Soluri, published by the University of Texas press. North Americans preferred employing the English speaking blacks to work their plantations - they were also given more positions of authority on certain sites. This deeply aggravated the native Hondurans, a grudge was subsequently born amongst the populace of the north coast towards Los Negros. Blacks were seen to be cheating Hondurans out of work - made worse by their being a people from Africa who didn't belong. Racist and intolerant attitudes surely have their roots at this point in time. It would appear quite strongly, that even to this day, mind-sets in El Porvenir haven't progressed...

'Te gusta las negritas?' I have been asked a few times. It's always hit me here as an entirely inappropriate and indeed unexpected question - 'do you like the black girls?' On being asked by some teenagers I replied after consideration (choosing honesty of course) 'pues claro - si son bonitas' or 'well of course - if they're pretty'. This was met with uproar, the three Honduran girls making ranging comments from the 'best' (least offensive) being 'ay no Ben - las negras no!' to the absolute worst 'se parecen como monos'. The latter comment being completely intolerable in any language - 'they look like monkeys'. Schoolchildren too, will frequently bully black classmates. If a black child does anything to irritate a Honduran, then the typical response amongst them is to shout 'negro!' or 'negra!' at the said black child. We always have to step in as the volunteers and scold those who choose to use the child's race as a reason to bully them. That being said, it's not as if we all come from angelic countries where no one has ever insulted a black person - USA and UK please stand up. We do though have the utmost responsibility to teach that racism is unacceptable amongst those we come into contact with.

Photo: 'Pues claro - si son bonitas'. A previous Miss Honduras

Whilst certain Hondurans display unkindness towards blacks here, they then behave most strangely and contradict their racist attitudes frequently. Hondurans who are quite clearly not black skinned, call themselves and each other 'negro y negra' - for some reason. 'Que tal negra?' I've heard young men say to girls in an almost flirtatious manner. 'Todo suave papi negro' or 'all suave black daddy' - I have heard as an amusing response. A Honduran lady, a mother of a friend says to me every time I see her 'que negro andas' - roughly translating to 'how black you're looking' on account of my progressive tanning. No offence is meant by it, it's like when I was told by the local fire chief that him and his colleagues were going to teach me a style of Spanish (they have a laugh at my Castellano style Spanish from Spain which I've acquired) which they called 'la pura negra'. What they meant by that was I going to speak a kind of 'black person's Spanish' like them...none of them are black though. The conflicting comments leave an outsider like myself  quite perplexed in trying to understand the situation here. Whilst at times locals say things beyond unacceptable about black people they then come across as carrying some kind of affection towards their darker brother and sisters. According to that same mother I mentioned, she told me that in a year's time 'te vas a ser negro como nosotros'. I am apparently going to be black like them. The thing is they have as much 'changing' to do as me on that one...

Monday, 4 July 2016

A repulsive state of affairs

Whilst strolling through some quiet back lanes the other day alongside a local girl, the two of us came across a friend of hers. The girls greeted each other as we passed ourselves with some textbook Spanish exchanged - 'Hola, como estas?' - 'bien y usted?' On passing the other girl up, my companion soon told me about her friend. The tale not being something I was expecting to hear.

'Ella tiene tres hijos ya - pero con quinze anos Ben' she told me softly. I was utterly shocked. I believe I asked her to repeat herself. On confirmation that the girl was indeed a 15 year-old-mother of three I took a few seconds and threw out another question. I asked when she had the first child. The answer being at 11 years of age.

My head tends to swim on hearing such things, questions filing my mind like 'what kind of animal impregnates an 11 year-old?' to 'how on earth does the girl cope?' etc... I have been thinking about the girl, about how her life has been robbed from her - that at 15 years of age she has not just one but three children to care for. Motherhood being a responsibility for life. The grandest of responsibilities for a woman surely. Three children from 11 to 15 years is something just deplorable.

What of that girl's dreams or desires - what of her innocence at 11 years - what of her as a person? How could someone (I refuse to call the father a man) violate the life of a little girl as has been done so abhorrently with this young lady? I saw the same girl later that night on my being invited to Church. There she was with two of her children, a tiny boy and a tiny girl. 

Eco tourism short

I came across these photos and thought they might look good on the blog - being that they perfectly exhibit the natural beauty of Honduras. These were taken whilst we hiked the Pico Bonito national park. A truly captivating series of waterfalls were encountered during our trek, these such places (as one can see in the photos) are sources of economic value - bringing in many a visitor from afar. As each and every Honduran licence plate says 'cuidamos los bosques' or 'we look after/care for the forests'.


Link for those further interested in Pico Bonito: