Thursday, November 29, 2012

Is it carelessness or pure misfortune?

I was hoping to write a blog post on a more positive note than my last one this time but, as luck would have it, last night I was the victim of another robbery at gun-point. This is my second in 1.5 weeks (and counting?). I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry about the situation, or both, I just know that I have so many mixed emotions right now it's hard not to be pessimistic about my time so far in La Ceiba.
When my boss from FBC first took me aside and asked me whether I was really sure I wanted to go to Honduras, because it is a dangerous place and very different from Mexico or Costa Rica, considering that I am "a softie" (a direct quote that I refuse to agree with as I stand by my argument that my reaction to e-coli poisoning in the water I was informed was safe to drink being more violent than others' is NOT a reflection of my personal strength), I was offended. Did she think I wasn't capable of living under difficult conditions? I've lived abroad for a big part of my life and it's not like I've never been exposed to hardships, so why was I being put under the magnifying glass to determine whether or not I was apt for this internship. Looking back, I realize now that it was a question of my safety being put at risk rather than doubting my ability to live in a less developed Central American country.
In that sense, she was absolutely right to ask if I was sure about my decision. When I chose to come to Honduras, I suspected I would be faced with challenges, but two gun-point robberies is not what I had envisioned. Last night, I was walking with two other interns on the street I live in to catch a cab just down the road. We were on our way to the hotel A's friends were staying at, where they have a pool. I was carrying my bag (a terrible habit I haven't quite seemed to learn to drop but stashing my valuables in various crevaces of my body to minimize the probability of being robbed), when all of a sudden a ridiculously loud motorcycle came barreling down in our direction. I moved onto the sidewalk to get out of the way and let them pass. Little did I know, until it was too late, that it was two men, the driver and the assaulter, about to make their move.
For reasons unknown, I was the only one targetted. I had my bag strapped over one shoulder under the sweater I was wearing. These guys were clearly amateurs, as the assaulter jumped off the motorcycle, didn't utter a word, and waved the gun around in my direction as if he was carrying a flashlight. He tugged at my bags, looking puzzled as to why it wasn't budging. After I managed to get my sweater off, he took both of my bags, the one with the money ($5) and my cards (I can't even justify why I had them with me), as well as the one with my towel and bathing suit. I don't see what kind of point they were trying to make by stealing everything I had, including things that would be completely useless to them such as my bikini, when all they really wanted was my phone and my money.
I could spend an endless amount of time asking myself why I was the only victim in both cases (the first time I was the only one with the bag so that may be justified but yesterday we all had bags) but I would be wasting it. The truth is, it doesn't matter where you are, who you're with, what you're doing, what time of day it is, whether you're a "gringo" or a local, these corrupt thieves will attack whatever and whomever they can. The most pathetic part is that they don't target the people who actually have the money, such as CEOs and bankers, but rather every day people, like foreign volunteers or local government workers (someone I work with was also assaulted at gunpoint last night, in a cab) because that's all they have the guts to get their hands on. When I told a local friend of mine what had happened the first time around, he told me a story about Cuban volunteers offering medical services in Honduras being assaulted and, once they explained what they were doing in this country to the assaulter, the son of a gun actually did. He even apologized for having approached them in the first place.
Somehow, I don't believe either of the people who robbed me have any sort of conscience and would have thought twice about robbing me after I'd explained to them that I was just a measly volunteer trying to offer my skills and to learn as much as possible from their environment. Luckily I haven't been physically harmed in either case. It's sad to have to spend every day wondering whether today will be the day it is "Game Over" in my video game-like life here. I don't want to have to count down the days until I get to leave, because I am finally starting to meet more local people. I think I can (relatively) enjoy another month here going to my dance classes with L, the new addition to our intern family, going out to dance one of these days, to the beaches and to the hot springs. After that, I will be ready to be transferred to another internship to a more isolated but safer place. I recognize that I am facing these daily challenges and sometimes it's hard to find the answer to the quesion "why am I even here, if I am constantly the victim of an attack and resentment/hatred towards 'gringo' foreigners is almost tangible?" but I know that I will be a better and stronger person at the end of it all, and for that I am thankful.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


I'm starting this post on a bit of a sour note because, as of two hours ago, I am phoneless and $40 poorer. Yes, it finally happened. I was with A and M, who are visiting from out of town, and we were on our way to the Expatriados bar when a man on a bicycle approached us, flashing the gun he had tucked into his belt, told us not to scream and to give him everything we had. My first thought was: "Awww, shit." Ever since arriving in Honduras, I feel like I've been living a game of 'Gotcha!' every day, where I'm constantly looking over my shoulder, paranoid that someone is out there to get me. If you don't know this game, I should tell you it's very fun to play with friends but not in real-life as a daily threat. The rules are as follows: someone has your name as their "victim" and this person cannot "get" you unless it is just the two of you, with no witnesses. In general, I try to make sure that when I am walking, there is more than just myself in the street. So far I have been able to do so, but tonight I let my guard down.

Let me tell you how it all started. A is celebrating her 25th birthday tomorrow and we wanted to celebrate by going out for the first time since arriving in Honduras. As luck should have it, tomorrow the municipal elections are being held and there is some strange law that states that no restaurant or bar can serve alcohol today or tomorrow so that nobody protests at the polls tomorrow. Really? If people can't drink at the bars but they can in their own homes, how would that discourage them from supposedly acting up at the voting stations the following day? Anyway, because of this law all bars, particularly in the Zona Viva, are closed today except for the Expatriates.

Since it's only 2 blocks away and it seems ridiculous to pay for a cab to take us that distance when we can walk it so easily, we chose the latter option. Of course this was a mistake. Even though the security guard in the neighbourhood surprised us by accompanying us to the main road, he didn't cross over to the other side by which point we were no longer safe. We were easy prey for the Thief on a Bicycle with a Gun. I had brought my $2 army knife but there was really no competition there. Whether or not it was loaded, I'm not sure, but I definitely wasn't going to take a chance trying to find out.

I didn't put up too much of a fight. I did pretend I didn't have my phone on me at first and, after he'd taken it out of my bag, I asked if I could at least have my SIM card, to which he responded "no" and when I protested that it was only $2 ("son 40 lempiras!") he said that he was very sorry ("lo siento mucho"). I doubt he was, but at least I tried. I wasn't as afraid as I thought I would be in that kind of situation. It was my first time being robbed at gun-point. I was more frustrated than anything, and annoyed at myself for having brought so much unnecessary change on me, as well as my Iphone. It was a free hand-me-down from my sister so I didn't lose anything of great value, however it was convenient to have around to upload pictures, to use WhatsApp messenger and to access wifi. It's impressive that I've "lost" it during my fifth week here, since it's a whole 2 weeks later than when I'd lost the Itouch  I used to have while on my Eurotrip in Paris at the time!

I could spend all my time worrying about what I no longer have and wondering how I could be so irresponsible but in reality, all things considered, I got off easy. The thief didn't assault us in any way or ask for anything that could put myself and others in danger, such as the keys to my house. We all walked away safely and unharmed and at least we were not alone. While it's a shame to have gone through that, I am grateful that I was with my friends at the time and that it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Even the taxi driver's warning from earlier in the day to beware of thieves on bicycles right on the corner of my street could have been a clear sign to me, foreshadowing near-future events, but I liked to think things weren't as bad as he was making them out to be. I was wrong. At this point, there's no sense in dwelling on what's already in the past, but at least I can take it as a lesson to always be on my guard and to remember that it's better safe than sorry.

 I suppose you haven't really experienced Honduras until your life has been put at risk. At least I can cross that off my bucket list now. I'm excited to have more authentic experiences, ideally not life-threatening, during my time here!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Just Dance

This is my fourth week in Honduras and my placement here in La Ceiba is taking me a while to adjust. I have a small room, which is fine because I survived the woods in New Brunswick! I think I would sleep fine if it weren't for all the noise all. the. time: the crying baby and barking chow-chows next door, along with the loud traffic. I would close my windows but it gets so hot and stuffy in my room. Lately it's been cooler because it's the rainy season which is nice, except the streets are flooded. Someone on their bike the other day was riding in water halfway up to their tire! I am so glad I brought my boots with me (best $30 I ever spent at Canadian Tire).
One thing I might complain about is that my work could be a bit more laid back...I live with my supervisor Juan Diego who's from Spain and away from his wife and son so works all the time to keep himself distracted I think. I wish I could be as excited as he is for me to go through 3 of the Honduras education curriculums of 400 pages each to see how we can incorporate more environmental themes. We get to work around 8am and don't leave til 5 or 6pm. At least we get 1.5-2hours off at lunch. The office is only a 5 minute walk away which would be so convenient if it was safe enough for me to go walking daily on my own!

I'm finding it pretty hard to work in an office all day. The projects I've been working on so far have been pretty good, a mix of everything between writing a proposal for funding from Putin (yes, you read that right, some real estate guy from Germany came in saying he was going to Russia to see his bestie the president who apparently has money to spend on organizations such as CREDIA, el Centro Regional de Documentacion e Interpretacion Ambiental) and other research/writing projects. It all sounded a bit fishy to me but who am I to judge? CREDIA has been funded by a European Union PROCORREDOR project which ends in Dec so after that they don't have much money to keep more than five staff , at which point I don't know what my role as an intern would be, other than writing more funding proposals to a questionable audience!

More recently I've been working on a Turismo Educativo Cientifico project to promote Cuero y Salado, a wildlife refuge nearby, as an ideal place for professors and students to do research as well as for ecotourists to appreciate the biodiversity. Tomorrow Ian, Aisha and I are going to Boca del Toro in Cuero y Salado to do an environmental education workshop, where we will be performing the Wetland Worries puppet show in Spanish. I will also be facilitating a drawing class for kids to create their own mural of a mangrove ecosystem! I'll be spending the weekend in Salado Barra, where Anna and Mira are living, and will get to see what it's like living without electricity or a fridge!

Two weekends ago I was with 2 other interns Ian and Aisha who live in the same house. After having fresh coconut water from the street vendor, we walked by the beach and ended up in a really rough neighbourhood by accident. I've never seen so many death stares in my life. One crazy guy saw us and, in a fit of rage, picked up a plastic bottle from the ground, flung it at us, then took out his knife saying he'd kill us! He missed and kept walking without looking back...I was very rattled by the experience!

One thing I am SUPER happy about is that I joined the gym that's only 2 blocks away. I've been to 3 dance classes already and it is the most fun EVER. Think pelvis thrusting, bumping and grinding, ass-shaking...basically a really good time. The other day we did the horse-riding dance to the Gangnam Style song. TODAY was the BEST part. I you haven't already had the privilege of seeing it, I have this "signature" move where I am leaning with one arm back, knees bent, feet on the ground and pelvic thrusting upward. It may sound vulgar and it probably looks it to, but it is hilarious to do and watch other people's reactions. My teacher did that move. Straight up, it's a thing over here! You would have been so proud! But actually the best part is that she made us use a plastic rod and use it as if it were a strip pole, to the following song by Mariah Carey and Busta Rymes:
I don't think I've ever humped an inanimate object/the floor so much in my life. Since joining the gym, I've set a goal to talk to a new person every day. It's taken a little while to get started, but so far so good. It's amazing how much I appreciate even a bit of small talk. The other day, 2 girls told me they liked my rainboots. It literally made my day. I felt like I was the new kid in elementary school just dying for someone to start a conversation with me. Today a local Honduran girl even told me that I dance well! I am way beyond flattered! I may be the only tourist in the class and stick out like a sore thumb, but at least I can dance!

In terms of traveling, I've only had 1 free weekend in 3 weeks (last weekend there was a recycling day where we did a puppet show on worms/compost), so I haven't really been going to the national parks nearby to hike or go rafting like I've wanted. I also want to go to the nearby bay islands like Utila to snorkel and get my diving certificate.
 Last weekend, we went to a "private" beach and to get there we rented a taxi. The driver Alberto was great! He was a perfect tour guide, pointing things out to us, stopping along the way to take pics of hidden waterfalls and a local fisherman with the big catch of the day (yellow-tailed tuna)! We also got to try almonds straight from the fruit! It was awesome.
I also went up into the rainforest to the Cangrejal river to go swimming. You could see the waterfalls and the cloudforest in the distance. It was a gorgeous secluded place with lots of plants, flowers and birds.

I'm looking forward to more weekends off so I can see all the beautiful things this country has to offer!