Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Downtown Tegucigalpa

Day two of Cuso in-country training, and I recognized part of what I'm liking about the moving to Honduras experience.
I'm way out of the zone where I know what to do and can handle things easily, and back learning and figuring new things out.
We spent the morning with a journalist and a translator learning about the history, politics, culture and economy of Honduras. I'd read lots, but it was much different having a discussion and trying to get my head around what was going on, what's ahead and how people here can hope to sort things out.
The experience was intensified because the discussion between the journalist, translator and Cuso rep was often in Spanish as they discussed what was going on. Jody could do better, but our former dog Jack used to stare at me with cocked head when I spoke to him, as if he was trying desperately to make sense of the words. I now know how he felt.
I'm trying not to leap to any conclusions based on little information, but the country is in a fascinating mess, with very little that actually works and no clear route out. The coup in 2009 was a big problem, there are few functioning political or legal institutions, drug traffickers are powerful, people are poor and the economy is hurting.
Oh, and they're early victims of climate change weather extremes.
It's not just a matter of avoiding poorly informed conclusions. Some 17 journalists have been killed since 2009.
We went to the centro with the journalist in the afternoon, and walked around a bit and saw the Museum of National Identity, which had some interesting stories, and a 19th century opera house. It's a scruffy core, with a lot of unemployed people and few prosperous ones, and a mix of century-old buildings and 1960s ones in disrepair. Jody said it reminded her of Havana.
But the journalist knew everybody, from street people to the museum director, and had a good open vibe that drew the same in return, and it didn't feel dangerous. (Though I would not go for an after-dinner stroll there.)
I'm liking it all, I think largely because I'm in a new situation and I'm learning and processing new stuff constantly. You forget how much you can slip into not-learning mode.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I've got a new life, you would hardly recognize me

Well, you'd probably recognize me, but the new life part certainly applies. (And while the headline is from The Sign, I am referencing the Mountain Goats' version, not the Ace of Bass hit.
After a stressful, occasionally miserable four or five months, we're in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, as my partner gets set to start a one- or two-year placement with Cuso International. (They're still looking for a placement for me, but my Spanish is pretty poor, so that's a problem.)
I'll write more about Cuso and its process and my big problems reducing all our possessions to the limits of a six-foot by eight-foot storage locker.
This is just a brief update and an effort to keep the blog from becoming totally stale.
Honduras is certainly a place where Paying Attention should be a way of life. The country, as they say, has issues. The politics are unstable and it has become a big drug transit route from South America to the U.S. markets, which brings a whole truckload of problems. The largest city, San Pedro Sula, has bumped Ciudad Juarez from the world's top spot for murders. People are poor.
But we flew in yesterday and did a brief, careful walk in the neighbourhood and recognized that people are still going about their lives. Kids are going to school, people are working. We shopped at the Mas por Menas grocery and noted a music store where Jody might be able to get the music stand that wouldn't fit in our bags. (We were allowed 50 pounds each by the airline. Our big bag weighed 49.7 lbs; the two backpacks a combined 49.4 pounds. The carry-on baggage included an accordion, two laptops and various things that would have pushed the suitcases over the limit.)
Today was spent in briefings - with a doctor at one of the hospitals who went through an amazingly detailed, skillful and helpful presentation on diseases, food risks and insects. And, along the way, with interesting observations on culture and other issues. The hospital was older, but looked cleaner than the old building at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria.
We had lunch with three Cuso staff at the Thai King restaurant - go figure - and the afternoon was devoted to a security briefing. It was a little daunting.OK, pretty daunting. But ultimately, the risks seem manageable and we've travelled enough, I think, to have some skills.
I'm still processing it all, and in-country orientation continues for another three days.
But all-in-all, it feels very good to be in such an interesting place, where I know so little and there is so much to learn.