Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The life and times of a reluctant volunteer, by the numbers

A day in the fast-paced life of an international development quasi-volunteer, by the numbers.
6:30 - The time in the morning I boarded the bus.
6:45 - The number of hours I spent travelling from Copan Ruinas to Santa Rosa de Copan and back for a two-hour meeting.
146 - The actual road distance travelled, in kilometres. (Which, yes, means an average speed of 22 km/h.) 
2: The number of dead cows I saw by the side of the road. One, coming home, was quite deflated. The morning dead cow was fresher - a dog was tugging at its stomach, and about 15 black vultures were waiting their turns.
30: The number of Powerpoint slides on writing effective case studies I used to compensate for my poor Spanish. (Sorry, Steve Jobs.)
9: The inches between rows of seats in the Cassasolo Express bus, and the exact size of the tiny stools they had crafted for people to sit in the aisle - a very nice touch.
1: The number of monkeys I saw tethered to a tree outside a house on the bus ride home.
35: The people squeezed into a bus with seats for 24.
11: The buses that can back into spaces at the Santa Rosa de Copan bus terminal, a dusty parking lot with the highway in front and market stalls behind. It’s a part of Honduras that feels truly Third World. Touts lie blatantly about travel options - that bus doesn’t run any more - and wrestle people toward buses. Vendors sell everything from food to medicines. If you go with it, there is a charming energy.
28: The number of fireworks stands, on one side of the road, on the way into La Entrada, the reputedly druggy town between Copan Ruinas and the rest of the country. The stands all look exactly the same. Only one actually had a name; the rest were generic. And the fireworks are made in households in the nearby villages, a fact that should raise alarms on so many levels.
1: The man heading into a car repair place to beg in La Entrada with two metal protheses for hands and forearms, slings to hold them in place and two feet that pointed directly toward each other. It is hard to see how an accident could have produced such a bad outcome.
3: The number of roadside stands selling tortoise eggs. Is that legal, I asked on an earlier trip? No, but they're very tasty, I was told.
31: The number of vendors, from 7 to 60, who descended on the bus in La Entrada, selling everything imaginable. Off-brand soda pop, belts, toothpaste, watches, krazy glue, mangoes, chips, potato and plaintain, anti-fungal medicines, a piece of chicken, tortillas and cabbage in plastic wrap, lychees, gum, popcorn balls, cucumber chunks. Tough to say no to the kids, or the wizened.
8: The number of 50-pound bags of coffee beans hoisted on to the roof of the bus in La Entrada. How the two guys would get them anywhere in Copan Ruinas is a mystery.
3: One seat in front of me on the bus ride back, there was a young, skinny guy with a white straw cowboy hat, a jean jacket with some fancy beading and a sketchy moustache. The young woman - girl - with him seemed fragile, a scarf with kid-like images over her hair, kind of hunched and clutching herself. When we stopped in the middle of nowhere and they got up to leave, I realized he was carrying their brand new baby, all swaddled in a hat and blankets and scarves. She was maybe out of hospital little too soon. But hey, a new life was starting.
 I remember that. It's different here, but some things - maybe the most important things - are the same.


Norm Farrell said...

A wonderfully drawn piece that brings back memories from travel in S. America.

Thanks for what you and Jody are doing and for sharing with readers at home.

RossK said...

Speaking of Mr. Jobs--

How'd you make that Harper's-worthy list...pen to paper or fingertip to keypad?


paul said...

Interesting, RossK, because usually I just type on Mr. Jobs' Powerbook, but this time I made notes in a little notebook on the bus, to get the numbers right.
Read his bio - Jobs that is - as an ebook down here. Fascinating, difficult, brilliant, and a fierce enemy of Powerpoint. Crazy drive to win certainly reminded me of the most successful of the big corporate guys I worked for.