Friday, June 5, 2009

Returning to Honduras

My journey began on April 21st and ended with my return to Guanaja on June 2nd. I visited Tampa and Orlando in the U.S.; Zagreb in Croatia; Frankfurt, Berlin, Nuremberg, Munich, Schwäbisch Hall, Stuttgart and Künzelsau in Germany; Rome, Orvieto, Florence and Venice in Italy. My visit to Europe was something I had waited for all my life and if it were not for the generosity of my son who volunteered to accompany me on this trip, I still would not have made this trip and for that I thank him. Together we toured Germany by train and Italy by plane and car and saw sights only read about in books, seen on T.V. and in the movies. It was a wonderful experience I will never forget. It gave me much to reflect on concerning the people, customs, food, and the way of life of people different from my country.

I must say that overall, Croatia and Germany were the most impressive countries. Italy was impressive in that there was much to see of the past relating to the architecture and the art of the masters of that time. However, Italy was way past expensive, the people were not as friendly as in other countries (except for our gracious and accommodating tour guides), the food, for the most part, mediocre, and the wines that are said to be some of the finest in the world were a disappointment. All hotels we stayed at everywhere were excellent. The rooms well appointed, the breakfast they offered was varied and bountiful and the staff at each hotel was polite and helpful. The difference came in the attitude of the people and the appearance of each country as a whole.

I tried to cover as much of my trip in my blogging as possible and, again, I have to thank my son for bringing his computer with him so that I could accomplish this task along with being there to help me with the connections in each hotel and any problems I had with said computer.

I plan several more blogs on areas that I have not already covered, but what I want to reflect on now is my return to Honduras and the thoughts I had upon arrival. I love living on the island of Guanaja. It is not for everyone but for those who are willing to return to basics, live a quiet and slower-paced life, this is a beautiful place. However, living in a third-world country is a wake up call. There are any number of reasons why people in third-world countries live the way they do; poverty, lack of basic needs such as food in great bounty, poor housing due to the fact that most construction is learned by the “seat of one’s pants” as opposed to a established education regarding that profession, lack of good planning and maintenance of towns and their infrastructure, lack of building codes, regulations and/or enforcement of laws and the distain of the government for its people.

Along with this, and maybe because of it, the people in Honduras do not have pride in their country, at least that is the feeling I get when visiting the Mainland. Even though one constantly sees people sweeping streets and sidewalks and mopping floors wherever one goes, the basic landscape is littered with garbage, construction materials, dead vegetation, shacks put together with anything that is available and built wherever anyone wants to build one, along with miles and miles of ugly, overhead and dangerous wiring.

For example, workers on a construction site have no rules to govern their work or safety. People work unprotected, on poorly lit sites which are rarely cleaned up on a daily basis, thus making injury a more plausible possibility. There is no organization such as OSHA in the U.S. to set rules so that the common laborer is protected against injury. Thus, with no rules and no pride in their work, they leave tons of material scattered about scarring the landscape and offering an invitation to accidents. Laborers have no recourse when injured; if a worker is injured on the job due to the inefficient, sloppy work allowed by the builder along with improper supervision, the worker is left to his own devices.

Everywhere one looks, no matter what the status of the neighborhood, one sees trash. Sidewalks are poorly maintained offering more opportunity for injury. Buildings are in a broken-down condition due to misuse, lack of maintenance and poor building codes (although I really don’t believe there are any building codes in this country – or, at least they are not enforced). Vendors are allowed to set up stalls anywhere thus impeding traffic and contributing to the ugliness of the area. Beggars are everywhere. People wander among traffic peddling cheap goods and food mindless of the danger they present to themselves and drivers. I have never been in a building, even a brand new one where I have not found examples of shoddy construction; bathrooms not functioning, poor construction and fixtures that do not work.

I seriously believe that this simply represents a lack of pride in one’s country. Everywhere I went in Europe, things were clean and maintained. All over Europe one constantly sees restoration going on representing the pride of the people in their past. Parks are offered which are beautifully kept and thoughtfully landscaped. Every town has a market square which is clean and attractive to the eye. Even in the oldest of towns (much older than those of this country), there is pride shown in the care taken with old and new buildings. These towns were not always rich; they all started with the basics. People realized that the care of the things around them would make for a better community and show the pride they felt. Even “beggars” are artistic by offering music or posing as mimes to entertain and rarely did I see someone sitting on the curbside or sidewalk with their hand out expecting you to give them money.

What contributes to this attitude? The leadership of the people of each country. Here in Honduras, those in power only care for themselves and the money they can put in their pockets. Advanced countries have a government that, over all, cares about its people. Education is one of the top priorities in Europe and North America and all developed countries, not so in Central America. Rules and regulations apply to everyone and are enforced in developed countries, not so in Central America. Laws are enforced and made to protect the people and the country in developed countries; not so in Central America.

I have seen the beauty of other countries, from the smallest village to the largest city and then have returned to a country that does not seem to care for its people or communities. There is a great deal to be said for regulations and laws and leadership. With a concern and pride for one’s country, the country will prosper. Maybe not in material ways but the pride will be shown in the overall appearance of the people and its country. I am not saying that to be beautiful the country must be wealthy. No, beauty is shown in the way people treat their land, their homes and their fellow citizens and the concern or the lack of it shown by the Government. As a good example, take Copan. It is a very old town but when you go there you feel the pride of the people, you see the pride in the way they care for their town and the fact that laws are laid down and enforced to encourage keeping the community something to be proud of.

In the 12 years I have lived on the island, conditions have improved as far as the attitude of the people towards their community. Streets are cleaner, buildings have been repainted and there has been an effort to keep them in repair. The overall attitude of the people here on the island is friendly. Here you do not find a lack of caring. Yes, buildings are old, wiring is haphazard, some areas are more than run down, but through a strong effort by the community, the island is, basically, clean and kept presentable – at least as best as finances will allow. However, the government of this island allows projects to commence because enough money was paid to those in charge to look the other way concerning various building “codes”. These projects begin and then shortly thereafter lay unfinished when funds are exhausted or interest is gone. These projects are abandoned leaving the ugly remnants of an incomplete project scarring the land. Drugs have infiltrated the island and in spite of the fact that many people believe this helps the economy here by providing jobs and income for the community, it does not. It provides the few people who are dealing with the drugs an opportunity to make money which they do not spend here as there is not much here to spend it on. Thus the money does not stay on the island to help the community. These people employ a small gang of thugs who terrorize those who are opposed to drug trafficking. People will not stand up to those few who are polluting the island and little help is offered to the people who use the drugs to encourage them that this path will lead to nothing but hopelessness. The drug trade is a jumping off point for increased thievery and murder.

Meanwhile, the politicians on our island are no better than those on the mainland. They are not concerned about their fellow citizens, only how much money they can put into their pockets during their brief term of office. Corruption in Central America is at a pinnacle and shows no sign of decreasing. The rich have distain for the poor and believe they are not worth saving. The poor are downtrodden and believe they can do no better, so they don’t! I.e., no pride in their country, their community or themselves; greed is the name of the game.

Do not misjudge what I am saying. I am glad that I live on the island where, for the most part, the main body of government of Honduras is located on the mainland and does not concern itself with a remote island. If more people on this island would learn to respect all walks of life, have more pride in their community, ban together to make and enforce laws and not allow lawlessness to prevail, demand that more care be taken in the maintenance and building of their community, then this island would take on a beauty it deserves. If they insisted that their children receive a good education and that those same children must follow rules set down by the establishment, then the island would benefit. It is not outside the realm of possibility that these things could happen. The citizens of this island stand a better chance of making it happen here because of their remoteness and the disinterest of the mainland government. I believe these people are capable of such action; they simply need to ban together and make it work. People here are friendly, family-oriented and religious; they simply need the courage to make things happen. Pride needs to be more of a focal point in this community.

It would be my wish that the people of this island could one day see how a government could work for them and not against them. If they had exposure to other cultures and countries that have persevered and ultimately allowed their people to take control and establish pride, then they could see it would be possible for their country. How, with perseverance they could make this island a jewel of the Caribbean, for themselves and for generations to come.


  1. Trouble in paradise? ;-)


    ps - happens to me everytime I return home from a really cool place. Hang in there - k

  2. The really sad part is that the citizens of Honduras all would aggree with you. You are spot on correct on every point. I am a U.S. expat living in La Ceiba and the onlt explanation I have is that this is a caste system culture. The families that had money 200 years ago have money today and they will insure that their families will have the money and power 200 years from now. Education is the key for turning all of this around and those in control ensure that the masses remain uneducated. Those that do recieve a decent education, mostly from Missionary groups and NGO's leave and start new lives in other countries. At least 1 out of 8 Hondurans now live in the U.S. Typically the ones who leave are the most ambitous. The best of Honduras leaves behind those with no vision for a future.

  3. Wow, what culture shock you must have suffered upon your return! Great article though - it should appear in a nation publication somewhere (somewhere OUTSIDE of Honduras, that is).

    You are absolutely right that if the government does not care about the people, the people will not care about each other. And in Honduras, there is a strong selfish motivation in most every individual: the need to survive without the social safety nets that developed countries provide.

    It's really sad to see what's happened to Honduras over the generations. One can only look at the country and imagine, "What if...?"

    Glad you had a nice trip to Europe, Sharon, and that you made it "home" safely. It was interesting reading all about it and seeing the pics.

    Welcome back to the simple life.