Living in Honduras or Guatemala as a foreigner is sometimes hard, mostly fun and never boring. This Blog is about more than just the oddities of my years in the not-so tranquil, cobble-stoned town of Copán Ruinas and, more recently, Antigua Guatemala. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…
important. Whether they‘re pop stars, astronauts, Nobel Prize winners or
athletes, they can lift up the spirit of a whole nation. Just see how
heart-warming the welcome race walker Erick Barrando received in Guatemala after winning a
silver medal at the Olympics!
doesn’t have a Shakira, Ronaldinho, Che Guevara, Vargas Llosa or Ricky Martin.
Not that Honduras doesn’t
have talent, it’s just that so far there hasn’t been an musician, actress,
politician (not even a bad one!) or artist that has put Honduras on the
But heroes there
are plenty, even though they’re mostly busy being invisible and unappreciated.
heroes here are the people from the ENEE, the national electricity company. Not
the people who run that miserable enterprise, but the people who fix all the
problems. Millions of them!
As soon as a
tropical storm hits, you can be sure a light post will fall down somewhere, a
cable will break or a transformator will be hit by lightning. To the ENEE people
the ungrateful task to jump in the car, find the fault (anywhere between Copán
and La Entrada, 60km from here) and fix it. Often in the rain and wind, at any
possible hour, but of course usually in the pitch black of a stormy night. They
climb posts in rain and hail, risk their lives and sometimes get badly hurt,
such as what happened to Moncho a few months ago, who got a shock, fell down
but saved his own life by making a big cut in his hand so the electricity surge
could leave his body (as his aunt explained me). Moncho was happy to make it,
but is still limping badly. Oh, and if the work isn’t dangerous and challenging
enough, they have to deal with dozens of calls from copanecos to their cell
phones who want to know why there is no luz
and when it will be back on.
These men are
true heroes and I hope they realize how much I appreciate the job they do.
lack of a better word, this post is titled “despedidas”. Can’t think of a good translation. Farewell party? Nah, too archaic. Send-off?
Too military… Goodbye ceremony? Not funky enough. So, despedidait is.
consider myself a bit of an expert on despedidas. After almost sixteen years in Honduras, I have organized many and
have been to many more. In Copán Ruinas, despedidas are frequent, because
there’re so many people who come here to live for longer or shorter periods and
for many different reasons. There are the Mayatan Bilingual School teachers
(who look younger every year, but that’s what we say every year), the
archaeologists, Spanish students, volunteers, aid workers, missionaries and a
handful of lost people who’ll be lost forever, unrelated to wherever they are.
Some you barely get to know, others become close friends. And of course, the
closer friends they become, the harder it is when they leave.
actually don’t like despedidas at
all, because I hate to say goodbye. But, if you have to, you might as well do
it in such a way you’ll never forget. Or at least as long as it takes to
recover from the hangover.
of our despedidaswere legend. Remember the Oy Awards for Sarah? The red
carpet, a real TV reporter and awards for the best street dog, chef, drama
queen and most desired bachelor (for which I was nominated, but lost it to
Lloyd, dammit!). That was the queen of all despedidas. But there was also a good one for Marcus from Denmark with a
Smurf theme, including Smurf porn, if I remember correctly. Quincy’s despedida
lasted a whole month and left everybody completely exhausted (and dehydrated
and poor). I remember despedidas in
Tunkul with René and Lisa singing a duet while Aidan was playing leprechaun on
the roof beams. But mostly I remember nothing at all, which probably has to do
with the generous amounts of alcohol that are usually present at despedidas.
two weeks ago we celebrated the despedida
of our friend Argi. After seven years of friendship, that was a tough one. A loooong
one too. The party was great, the hangover monumental, so it was a good idea
that Argi had decided to plan a whole day for recovery before taking off. The
day she actually left, we met for breakfast with a few friends, as an after-despedida, and then escorted her to the
bus station. It was really not a lot of fun. Sitting there waiting fort the bus
to leave, trying not to tear up. What’s there to say when so little time is
left and all has been said? Finally the bus was about the leave and we said our
final goodbyes. (Actually, we didn’t because we decided that was too painful.
We said “hasta luego”).
left the bus station with Kristin and Lizzette, feeling empty and overwhelmed
at the same time. We got into a moto-taxi. We avoided looking at each other,
because it was pretty obvious that all three of us would start bawling if we
did. Then, as the taxi drove off, Lizzette started singing “Kum Bay Yah My Lord, Kum Ba Yah”. Kristin and I
immediately joined in and there we went:
Kum Bay Yah My
Lord, Kum Ba Yah. Kum
Bay Yah My Lord, KUM BA
taxi driver watched us quite alarmed trough his rear view mirror as we passed
the cantinas, up the hill, while singing on top of our lungs.
Kum Bay Yah My
Lord, Kum Ba Yah
Oh My Lord, Kum Ba Yah…
somehow, that really made me feel better…
you go Argi, this one’s for you! You’d never have guessed you were “gospeled”
out of Copán!!!)
I don’t know
whether it has ever been scientifically researched, but I wouldn’t be surprised
if Hondurans are the loudest people on Earth.
A Honduran event
without a lot of noise is as unlikely as a Honduran meal without tortillas.
Hondurans really like to indulge in making a racket. The more the merrier!
there’s fireworks for every special occasion (Christmas, Easter, Independence
Day, New Year, among others). And I’m not talking about a beautiful fireworks
display, but heavy duty bombs that rattle the windows, make the dog dive under
the bed and even get haughty frowns from my cats. At dawn, of course. Or
actually, they start at dawn, but from there on there’s no real pattern.
preferably celebrated through serenades at 5am. Loud ones, too. And in order to
sell a product, you need a whole wall of speakers in front of your business,
preferably with heavily distorted punta or
reggaeton. This makes shopping in
malls an unbearable experience and unfortunately this trend has made it all the
way to the previously (relatively) quiet town of Copán Ruinas.
I just crossed
the central park and it completely baffles me how people can actually stand it
without suffering from noise induced hearing loss. (Or maybe they’re already
deaf and that’s why they turn up the volume). On each corner people are selling
one thing or another through their amplifiers, backed up by a few businesses in
adjoining streets that also loudly announce their products, because it is weekend
and the neighbours do it, so they do it too. Does this really work? What
happened to a gentle and generic elevator tune on the background? For me it
definitely doesn’t work. I go a mile out of my way to shop somewhere in
silence. (Which means I’ll probably starve to death very soon.).
I lost count how
many times I moved because of Religious Noise Pollution: a church in the
neighbourhood is normally very tolerable until the congregation grows and
enough money had been raised to buy a sound system, usually with more speakers
than church members.
Oh, and there’s
yelling at their children.
Radios and TVs
that are perpetually turned on. So what if you can’t hear yours because of your
neighbour’s, you just turn your own volume up a bit!
Indecently loud cell
phone ring tones.
dog tied up on the patio that barks and cries all night long. (Seriously, am I the only one to be bothered??)
The rooster on
the same patio. (I don’t think they even have chickens. So what’s the rooster
And now, to make
matters much worse, there’re the primary elections that instead of a battle of
visions seems to have become the Battle of Noise. The Liberals are loud, so the
Nationalists need to be louder, and so on…
Am I overly sound
sensitive here? Or just not Honduran enough?
I do have a
theory about this: I grew up in an apartment above a carpentry workshop and
until this day I find the hammering and whining of a chainsaw a comforting
sound. As a matter of fact, I find it so familiar, and soothing, I sleep like a
baby right through it. So what if the sound you grow up with is what comforts
you??? That would explain why Hondurans get so uncomfortable when there’s no
noise around. Have you noticed how they produce incredible amounts of decibels
wherever silence might reign? On beaches, picnic areas, parks: open the door of
your car and crank up the volume!
So to go back to
my theory, it would mean that Hondurans need
noise in order to feel comfortable, because that was the environment of their
early childhood. It also means there is no solution to the problem unless we
can create a new generation of children that will grow up in silence (or at
least a no-noisy ambience). But how to do that? Maybe get Coca-Cola involved
with a campaign aimed at young parents: The Silent
As for now, it
has started to rain, so at least the sound of rain hitting the zinc roof drowns
out the noise of the rest of the world. It also means the power will go out
shortly. But that is a whole different theme…
Even though I’m a
starving artist who’s behind on the rent and hasn’t paid this month’s
electricity bill yet, that’s not how local people see me and I don’t think that
will ever change.
The other day my
roommate told me somebody was looking for me. A woman with a sick child.
Ay no, not again.
I asked my
roommate why she couldn’t have said I wasn’t home, but she just shrugged and
locked herself in her room.
So I went
downstairs, and indeed, there was a woman with a miserable looking boy standing
on my porch. I asked what the problem was and the woman in question said the
boy had diarrhea, was severely dehydrated and that there was a strike at the
health centre. And that she knew that I am such a persona alegre (Merry??? Me????) and that’s why she came to ask for
Okay, let me see
what I can do.
So I went back
upstairs, got my purse and took out a little from an already alarmingly small
amount of money.
Back down stairs
I handed the woman my miserable contribution, for which she thanked me
profusely. I was about to close the door when the woman indicated that she
wanted to ask me a question.
“Are you that
woman from the US
who gives out loans, by any chance???”
“No, I am not. I
mean, I am not from the US
and I don’t give out loans.”
“Oh!” The woman
exclaimed, and started giggling. “Then you are the wrong gringa!!!”
“Oh,” I said. “In
that case, can I have my money back?”
another bout of laughter.
“You are a very,
very funny person!” the woman said, still giggling while she dragged her sick kid off my