Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Los Cayos Cochinos

The world holds within it a swathe of marvellous places, zones within our planet that make the human being pause and take a look at his or her life, making them realize furthermore that life itself is indeed and undoubtedly worth living. The reason being simple - how it could it (life being worth living) not be when we are blessed with such a beautiful place in which to reside. Cayos Cochinos is without any doubt...one such place. I am truly glad that we decided to make the trip there last weekend, glad for myself especially as I was more inclined to pass it up.

The name Cayos Cochinos means the 'dirty cays'. The Spanish named it so during the age of discovery in the Americas - as British pirates used these 13 small islands as a hideout and operating base. The Spanish were at a loath to cross into this beautiful yet then perilous zone - a place they could meet their deaths from English, Welsh or Scottish privateers. They are now a protected reserve (treaties having been signed by countries such as Spain and Italy) supporting all kinds of astonishing biodiversity - both marine and land. From Iguanas to Nurse sharks - the cays offer stunning wildlife. To get there we took a thrilling boat ride from a small town (a Garifuna community) called Sambo Creek. Getting out towards the islands the waters appear extremely high and deep - 'Honduras' intriguingly meaning 'deep waters' in Spanish, Columbus naming the country so after periling with his fleet through the great sea depths off the north coast.

The Garifuna people reside on the islands - making an income from very sustainable and exhilarating tourism trips- such as ours. From paying a tax on the main island to enter the cays at a military guarded tourism information base to then snorkelling with exotic marine life, trekking through jungles on the lookout for Boa snakes and finally landing in a Garifuna community to spend the night - the trip was simply extraordinary.

The Garifuna village we stayed in was a fascinating little place although from my previous time in a Garifuna village in Tela (a nearby coastal town) I felt that the coastal Garifuna were friendlier than the island people. They live in a mix of traditional wooden/wattle and daubed earth walled buildings to adobe or wooden planked constructions. The gorgeous views of the Caribbean surrounding them on all sides - these once British owned slaves make their livings from fishing mostly if not tourism ventures. The beaches are utter marvels - all the more so as the sun sets over the crystal clear turquoise water. These are travel brochure destinations.

Who are La Garifuna?

More often than not referred to as 'Garifuna', they are truly called 'Garinagu' whilst the culture and language themselves are 'Garifuna'. The epic story of the Garinagu begun during the early 1600's on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The Landing by Benjamin Nicholas
In 1635, two Spanish ships carrying Nigerian slaves sank directly off the coast of St. Vincent. The surviving slaves swam ashore and found shelter within Carib Indian settlements. Over the next century and a half, these two peoples intermixed and eventually fused into a single culture - the Black Caribs or Garinagu.
By 1773, the Black Carib formed the dominant population of St. Vincent. European politics however began to exert their influence throughout the Caribbean. A series of wars between the French and British on St. Vincent culminated in a final battle on June 10th, 1796, the French and their Carib allies where ultimately forced to surrender and leave the island. This henceforth started a journey for the exiled Caribs - now in search of a home.
It was then the British who simply marooned Caribs on the island of Roatan, Honduras. Shortly after, the entire marooned population migrated to the mainland of Honduras and allied with the Spanish in the fortress town of Trujillo. However, a brief civil war in 1832 found the Caribs on the wrong side and once again many were forced to flee to neighboring British Honduras - now Belize.


Friday, 24 June 2016

Al hospital!

A few days back we went on a drive to the nearest main hospital based out of the city La Ceiba. Our mission was to secure placements for incoming medical students who wish to gain credit with their universities by volunteering in hospitals (within developing nations I gather). The team was comprised of my boss Eve Horowitz - USA, project manager Jenna - Finland, medical student Amanda - USA, and myself.

On arrival at the hospital we were greeted by a complete pendejo of a military guardsman who didn't speak Spanish it appeared despite being Honduran. Eve stumbled out nervously but in a flawless sentence 'tenemos una reunion' - 'we have a meeting'. She was made to repeat herself at least five times and then Jenna and I had a go at getting the moron to understand. He just claimed not to get it and barked 'no te entiendo - va va' - 'I don't understand you - just go'.

Anyway, Eve then began to tell me of how things work at this particular hospital. Some mind-blowing things I heard - such as pregnant women having to bring their own sheets as well as people having to pay for everything during their stay from food to medicines. Of course if you've no family to help you or no money - as a good friend Sherman told us (he came along as a translator) - 'that poor guy better pray...'

We ended up waiting in administracion for three tedious hours as the director was occupied. We had come to speak with her. Fed up with the wait three of us went to get ice-creams to then have them taken off us at the first lick as the director was finally ready to see us! We got in there to find a serious looking conversation taking place between Eve, Amanda, Sherman and a stern looking female directora. After some great explaining of the programme and clever negotiation thanks to the aforementioned people - the hospital granted us permission to send the med students!

A truly great success and something that will undoubtedly help those in serious need. We posed for a photo at the entrance afterwards - it was awkward to be honest as people don't tend to take happy photos at a hospital...however we have something to celebrate at the HCA!


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A la playa vamo'!


To change the feel a bit, considering this blog has had some rather heavier pieces as of late - I shall write an account of our Sunday at the beach. Our NGO director Eve Horowitz decided to take us all to a place just outside of the city La Ceiba (near Sambo Creek - a more Belizean sounding name) which is a kind of hotel/restaurant by the beach - Canadian owned.

The ride there was quite something, we all climbed in the back of her pickup truck and rode 'rough' -  Central American style. This being something like 10 people with an inch of space per person. It had been too long since doing this during my first time in Honduras so I enjoyed the experience thoroughly - despite the fact it gets terribly uncomfortable. The place itself was a truly beautiful spot with some gorgeous tropical scenery having us pass the afternoon swimming, sun-bathing (only the girls), photo-taking and sipping on ice-cold refreshments in the bar.

I didn't come to Honduras for a gringo style vacation - I've no wish to mingle amongst the whites frankly - yet I do concede these outings are of course relaxing and very enjoyable. The shoreline of Honduras is the most splendid and utterly beautiful I've seen of any country. We rode back to El Porvenir the same way - evading police stops by not sitting on the rim of truck. Everyone had to pile on top of each other in the hatch. Nothing like the smell of sweaty, salt-stained - sun cream wearing North Americans and Europeans...

Bottom photo: 'Paradise found' - absolutely. I noticed the small sign whilst strolling along the beach, it simply demanded a photo being entirely suitable in its capturing of the day's essence. Paraiso encontrado...

Monday, 20 June 2016

Los Pescadores. The Fishermen.

Where we live, in the volunteer beach house, the setting is of an exotic beauty and without any doubt - charmingly Caribbean. I wake up every morning and feel privileged to be blessed with such a 'day-dreamer's' location in which to reside. The beach lies out front, tropical fauna shading our large house from the downbeat of the searing sun. In the shade, where the stray dogs lie and the mosquitos swarm - our local fishermen commune.

These men are all true characters to begin with. They've a local reputation as being likeable rogues or swarthy sorts. There is indeed a fine line existing between them all. The men gather in groups of five to fifteen at a time underneath the trees just beyond our porch. They do little all day but sit, smoke La Juana and get drunk. Sometimes they've broken into fights or displayed uncouth behaviour towards young women. The fact is however, that despite their at times less than appealing behaviour - these men have all struggled. I can see this written on their faces. Weather-beaten, shabbily dressed and generally un-kempt - they appear a pitiful sight. All products of the regions poor economic situation the fishermen are simply locked in a conflict with the consequences of poverty and lack of opportunities. Their sitting around and doing nothing is something common of those finding themselves in an existence such as theirs. The fishermen wake up early and hit the waters in their carved out canoes. At times we've seen them land impressive catches - notably a large Barracuda as of recent. When not engaged in landing fish however, the men become lethargic and sit around abusing substances.  

An always friendly group though, smiling and saluting us - their political rants and conversations can also be extremely interesting. These tend to take place early in the morning so only early-rising Spanish speakers like myself get to hear them. Some are quite educated as well I believe. I recall one such fishermen explaining at the top of his voice one morning (they speak in a very fast-paced slang ridden vernacular as well making them difficult to understand at times) what a 'gringo' really is. I have noticed that Hondurans don't use the word properly. A 'gringo' or 'gringa' is a white-skinned person from the USA (can include Canada as well) - and that's that. The word has its origins in Spain and stems from Greek. In keeping with its traditional usage within Latin America - Europeans like myself are not to be considered gringos. 

Getting back to their presence here, I feel that the fishermen are indeed rowdy yet misunderstood. They may turn heads when greeting each other with lines such as 'hola maricas!' (hello faggots!) or sitting around binge drinking yet one can see the desperation in these men's' faces. One even came up to me - half drunk and asked 'puedes regalame tu camisa...como un amigo?'. A middle-aged man was asking me for the clothes of my back. 'Can you give me your shirt...like a friend?'


Photo: The fishermen gathering below our porch - a favourite haunt.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

A hard time at home

During a few classes we've been giving over the past week a few of us have noticed that some children (boys mostly) bear signs of very possible 'physical' activity at home. One such child, a ten-year-old boy who attends our English and computing classes came along with a noticeable black mark around his right eye socket. A U.S volunteer noticed it at first whilst I had a kick-about with the chico. I then took note and found myself telling a Honduran volunteer the next day.

The boy (who we shall call 'Jose') lashed out at another child during the next day's class - as he has a quick temper and also knows a 'tasty' word or two in his native tongue. Both serving as signs of his home life - at that age. The other boy was fairly hurt by Jose. Turning over to me, a Honduran volunteer said 'pelea mucho este'. That roughly translating to 'this boy fights a lot'. I then said to him that we were concerned with him and his home life - I pointed to Jose's facial marks. The Honduran volunteer stepped over boldly asked Jose what was up with his face. He looked away and timidly responded that it was the 'dog'...

Another sight I noticed was when we found ourselves playing Frisbee on a field one day last week. A female volunteer went to snatch the Frisbee jokingly from a little boy. As she did the child threw his little arms over him as if to cover himself. He did it in the fashion as when you know someone's going to hit you. An obvious sign of being hit frequently - his reaction was instant.

Our project manager informed us all towards the end of the week that we can expect most children here in El Porvenir have a 'hard time' at home. This being just the tragic part and parcel of growing up in a deprived place. No different to poor and underprivileged families in the UK for instance, this is just the way it is - very sadly. All we can do as outsiders is to provide the children with a safe, fun and engaging place to be - when present in our classes. This being what the HCA so strive to accomplish...


Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Pregnancies at an attrocious age


I had an interesting yet saddening conversation yesterday evening with a local girl who attends our adult/youth English classes. Making conversation she asked me if I had siblings, where my parents live etc...before moving onto (switching into Spanish too) 'tienes hijos usted?' I was surprised she asked me if I had children (considering she knew my age - twenty) however I knew that here in Honduras that wouldn't be at all abnormal for them. That being, a twenty-year-old who's already a father. In fact, within some areas it's probably considered almost 'abnormal' if not...

I told her that within Europe people tend to have children later on. She stated the contrary saying that within the area many girls - as young as eleven - are mothers. I asked her what she thought about that with her response being 'bueno, eso lo que hay' - meaning 'it is how it is'. It's a crying shame I feel that so many young Honduran girls I've met are already mothers. Truly, the majority of girls from fifteen to twenty all have at least one child.

The girl doesn't have any children herself and told me she wants to wait until past twenty five or so, once she's actually in a position to support a child. Before the eye-opening chat came to an end she recounted me a story of how a friend of hers (a pregnant eleven-year-old) actually died giving birth. Something of a national crisis one might argue, surely some kind of education programme needs putting in place or something similar to combat such an alarming young rate of pregnancies...

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Poverty in El Porvenir

I must say, that during the past week as I ventured for my first time into certain barrios or neighbourhoods of the large (and extremely flat) town of El Porvenir, I was indeed rather taken by the obvious state of poverty.

Walking through these zones - all just off the long main road running through the town, one notices the many different styles of dwellings in which people live. From palm-thatched and split-cane walled huts to dilapidating, wooden planked and adobe constructions - there are no fit looking buildings for inhabitation.

The children who live within these places come running out to greet you, their little clothes torn, barefoot - some appear just in pants. They've cuts and bruises on their young yet already haggard faces  yet they beam great smiles and laugh at every possible opportunity. Some of the parents hide in the confines of the houses however others will also come out to say hello to the passing gringos...

Photos below: