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…

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Why Hondurans Are the Way they Are


 A couple of days ago I wrote a post on how the tropical weather might be the cause of the Latin-American "mañana mañana culture", the tendency to take things easy and not doing anything today that can be done tomorrow. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced it goes much deeper than that… Although I’m not an anthropologist, much less a genealogist, just a curious artist, here some of my thoughts…

Hondurans are renowned to be lazy and easy going. If you hire a Honduran to get something done, you better pay when the job is done and not per day or week, because the laborer in question probably won’t show up again once he has some money in his pocket.

I’ve lived long enough in Honduras to see through these stereotypes, but still, I think that in general a lack of longterm vision can be seen as one of its people’s characteristics and also one of the country’s biggest problems. It‘s not easy to get things done in a culture of unpunctuality and wit a lack of involvement that leads in its turn to a lack of initiative, responsibility and creativity.  Problems on every level are resolved with a quick fix that isn’t a solution on the long run. New projects are set up with as little investment as possible and without taking the consequences in account. That’s why potholes in the road are being fixed with a bit of cement instead of being properly repaired. Houses are built with the cheapest materials that won’t last or withstand the heavy threats of a tropical climate and no politician looks beyond the four years of his public service.

I live in an apartment that is only five years old but already falling apart. Since I moved in three years ago I’ve already replaced faucets, showerheads, locks, window screens and power outlets, and not because I’m such a rough tenant. The roof leaks, the ceiling is being eaten away by termites, the woodwork in the corridor is rotting away, water leaks through the wall, the PVC system that fills my water tank is going to give in one of these days and paint keeps flaking off the walls, no matter how well I treat them, and I know about those things because I’m a painter.  If I complain to my landlord, he thanks me for letting him know and if he makes repairs at all, it is always with the same cheap materials that yet again won’t last long. 

How different it is in my home country Holland. During every visit I’m always surprised about how everything or at least most of the things are in such good state, although Holland has a very damaging climate too.
My parents live in an old Amsterdam neighbourhood in a house that was built in 1904. And it is in a perfect state. No leaks, no flaking paint, no rotting woodwork. (Now that I think of it, in Holland I have never lived in a house with a leaking roof, whereas in Copán the opposite is the case.) I remember looking out the kitchen window at the backs of the houses from the neighbouring street, and was amazed how even the backsides of the houses were in such perfect condition. Only the house straight across from my parents showed a few cracks in the paint and for some strange reason, that imperfection moved me. But not for long. The next morning a team of professionals in white outfits set up scaffolding and repainted the house.

If you think of where these differences come from, the climate might again be the deciding factor. It was not too long ago that In Holland (and most parts of Europe) the common people had to do a whole lot of thinking ahead. Way before the time of supermarkets and imported goods, people in cold countries had to plan six months ahead. During the summer they would work there butts off cultivating and harvesting, all to survive six months of harsh winter. Not only did they have to make sure to have enough food for themselves for a period of six unproductive months, but also for their live stock. They needed enough firewood, the houses needed to be in good shape for the winter, warm clothes needed to be knit. Weeks of potting, drying and storing were needed before they were ready for wintertime. Now, that requires a whole lot of thinking and planning.

In Honduras on the other hand, the climate is much gentler. Harvests go year-round and if it’s not mango season, then there’re avocados, bananas and other fruits and vegetables. The weather is not so harsh that special clothing or housing is required. I’m sure working the land in Latin America isn’t any easier than it used to be in Europe, but well, why worry now when tomorrow there’s another day. That has probably always been the case and still is to this day.

I think you can even say that our physical appearances go back to those climatic factors too. The Dutch for example are tall and lean (me being the exception to the rule, of course). In the old days they would work hard during the summer to have a relatively sedative life during winter. But that didn’t result in obesity. (Also because food was probably pretty scarce by the end of the winter). In other words, I think the Dutch have a genetic history that keeps them  pretty much in the same shape no matter what, which keeps up to these days (not that obesity recently has become a problem, but that’s for different reasons). In Honduras however, farmers are used to walk up and down the hills year-round and do hard physical labour . Besides working the land, water needs to be hauled, kids to be carried… In the villages you still see no fat people at all. But the ones that move to town and have taken on an office job and take mototaxis to that job turn fat almost instantly.
Of course social factors such as oppression, education (or lack thereof), hierarchies and religions also have a huge influence on people as a whole, but still they’re more recent than the thousands of years of genetics  focused on how to survive that we carry in our bodies. In this time an age people from different countries (especially in the cities) live lives that are more similar than ever, but before those genetics that make us who we are will change, that might take another thousand years or so.



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