Living in Central America (in my case Honduras and Guatemala) is sometimes hard, mostly fun but never boring. Here some of my musings on life in this colourful part of the world where you can always expect the unexpected. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Honduran Heroes

Heroes are 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!

Unfortunately, Honduras 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 map yet.

But heroes there are plenty, even though they’re mostly busy being invisible and unappreciated.

My greatest 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.

Monday, August 13, 2012


For 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, despedida it is.

I 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.

I 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.  

Some of our despedidas were 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.

About 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”).

I 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 YAH!!!!

The 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…

And somehow, that really made me feel better…

(There you go Argi, this one’s for you! You’d never have guessed you were “gospeled” out of Copán!!!)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What’s the noise all about?

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!

For starters, 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.

Birthdays are 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 the honking.

And parents 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.

My neighbours’ 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 all about?)

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 Generation…

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…

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Wrong Gringa

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 a ayudita.

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?”
That caused another bout of laughter.
“You are a very, very funny person!” the woman said, still giggling while she dragged her sick kid off my porch.