Friday, September 30, 2011

Twenty Things You Didn’t Know About Honduras (Or Maybe You Did)

Allow me to marinate you all in some Honduran knowledge…

1. There are four times as many private security guards as policemen or soldiers in Honduras (thank you, Economist). Hence the guards armed with automatic shotguns outside of Chinese restaurants in Tegucigalpa or the three armed guys (as in there are three guys with weapons, not multiple guys with three arms) that stand/lean around all day outside the Banco del Occidente in my town.

2. It is the most mountainous country in Central America. The highest point (9,416 feet) is found in Celaque National Park- home to Honduras’ highest and best-preserved cloud forest…and it’s only about an hour and a half from yours truly.

3. The fashion for females is to grow out their toenails objectionably long and decorate them with intricate, hand-painted butterflies/flowers/the such. Always. Hence my getting, on average, thirty comments a day from concerned women when mine are unpainted/haven’t yet started to curl as theirs have.

4. Throughout the Caribbean Coast of Honduras (as well as Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Belize) live the Garifuna people, descendants of Carib (indigenous group from the Orinoco River Basin in Venezuela), Arawak (indigenous group from the West Indies) and West African people (whom arrived via wrecked Spanish slave ship). They have an extremely vibrant culture and provide us with such delicacies as pan de coco (coconut bread), guifiti (questionable alcoholic beverage consisting of roots, plants, and (allegedly) marijuana boiled/soaked for far too long in whatever kind of cheap liquor they can get their hands on and (also allegedly) said to be an aphrodisiac) and punta- a “mimetic cock-and-hen mating dance” in which the person dancing, perched on the tips of their toes, rapidly shakes their hips and butt to the rhythm of the drum circle that engulfs them as their upper body remains almost completely motionless. It’ll blow your mind.

5. Decommissioned American school buses- what we call ‘chicken buses’ because it’s not uncommon to see passengers traveling with a chicken or two in their costales- are the main source of transportation. They are not considered drivable, however, until they are decked out with tinted windows and a gaudy amalgamation of stickers- usually of Spider Man, Che Guevara and messages about Jesus, including the one that never fails to creep me out- Jesucristo cúbreme en tu sangre (Jesus Christ cover me in your blood).

6. When a baby is born, Hondurans put a bracelet made of small, red beads on his/her wrist (or, in the case of a newborn horse, a red ribbon around their neck). This is done in order to ward off the mal de ojo (evil eye); they say that if someone stares yearningly at them, it could produce illness or possibly even death, hence the ribbon/bracelet to attract the gaze to that rather than the child itself. Interesting how similar beliefs transcend so many cultures around the world.

7. People here live, eat, sleep, and breathe fútbol (I’m not sure how one actually ‘eats’ soccer, but if it were possible, believe me, it’d be on your plato típico, right in between the fried plantains and beans and drenched in mantequilla). Interesting fact- Honduras’ soccer team is the number one team in the world if you insure their performance against GDP, size of population and international experience (almost makes up for the fact that they didn’t score a single goal in the World Cup). If people here were even half as on top of showing up for meetings as they were soccer matches, I’m sure Peace Corps Volunteers would finish up their two years with far fewer stress-induced maladies.

8. While the numbers differ depending on who’s giving them, the figure of Honduras’ homicide rate ranges from the high 60s (NYT article 'Drug Wars Push Deeper Into Central America') to 113 per 100,000 people (Homicidios en Centroamérica). If you’re anything like me these numbers mean close to nothing to you, so allow me to make some comparisons: the rate in the United States in 2010 was 5.3 per 100,000; in Baghdad, Iraq, a country in the midst of a war, it was around 50. The city notorious for being the most dangerous is San Pedro Sula, the ‘industrial capital’ of Honduras located in the northern part of the country. This has a lot to do with its location right smack dab on the route through which most all cocaine and other illegal indulgences that so many United Statesians enjoy so much travel, hence maras (gangs) and the inevitable rivalry between them. In spite of this bad rep, let it be said that they also have a scrumptious Japanese joint, Denny’s, Price Smart (aka Central American Costco, samples and all!), bomb Korean BBQ (due to the presence of several Korean maquiladoras), and supermarkets that sell things like Asahi and truffle oil and whose aisles I would be content roaming for days.

9. Off of Honduras’ North Coast lie the Bay Islands, surrounded by the second largest coral reef system in the world. Utila, one of the islands, is touted as the cheapest place in the world to obtain your PADI scuba diving certification...and you can swim with whale sharks. Aka the biggest fish that exists. And if that doesn’t do it for you, trying to decipher the bastardized English (yeah, I said it) of the locals, who are descendants of British pirates (no, really), is entertainment enough in and of itself.

**See how I followed that disconcerting, bleak fact with a positive one? Learned that in college. I mean obviously your love for whale sharks and picturesque beaches far outweighs your fear of getting macheted to death. Right?**

10. People here go absolutely ape shit over comida china (Chinese food). I’m convinced they’d eat that hot mess of MSG and too much soy sauce three times a day if they could. The best part is that, every single time, it’s accompanied by pan molde (aka slices of nutrient-rich, Bimbo white bread). I guess I’d be equally excited to have a break from eating thirteen tortillas a day, too.

11. If you thought Southerners were fried chicken fiends, you have never been to Honduras… that pinguid poultry is literally everywhere. Plus, the leading Chicken producer in the country- Pollo Norteño- which constitutes over 50% of the Honduran market, is owned by multi-billion dollar US corporation Cargill. Surprise surprise.

12. Instead of indicating the location of something with your pointer finger as us United Statesians tend to do (Hondurans interpret this as rude), here, people point with their lips.

13. The city of Gracias in the department of Lempira was the Spanish capital of all of Central America from 1544 to 1548.

14. According to the History Channel program Most Extreme Airports, Toncontín International Airport in Tegucigalpa is ranked the second most dangerous in the world due to its short runway and proximity to mountains.

15. If you have to travel on a Sunday, or any other day of the week really, and can’t make it to church- don’t fret! There is guaranteed to be at least one, most likely more, preachers on your bus, la Santa Biblia in hand, vociferously reminding everyone aboard that homosexuality is a sin and that finding God will regulate your blood sugar level. And, of course, taking your money for their words of wisdom.

16. On that same bus, it is guaranteed that at least one person in your immediate vicinity will vomit, most likely a child. And if the ayudante doesn’t get a bag to said child in time, his/her mother will coolly remove their sweatshirt so they can vomit into the hood. Then this sweatshirt will sit next to you on the bus for the remaining seven hours of your trip to Tegucigalpa. (This happened to me).

17. When a man drinks one too many banana sodas in a bag and nature calls, he will urinate on the spot, sin pena. Chances are if you are in Honduras and take a look around you at any given moment, there is a man passing water just a stone’s throw from where you stand.

18. There are no Victorias Secrets… underthings are sold on street side tables right beside the street meat and the mangoes.

19. There are somewhere around one million Hondurans currently residing in the United States, around 1/8 of their entire populace.

20. Monthly cell plans practically do not exist- close to everyone has pay as you go phones. There are three providers to choose from- Tigo, Digicel, and Claro, and regardless of which one you have, they love to ruffle your feathers by sending messages like this one multiple times a day: Deseas lucir sexy y sensual? Suscríbete GRATIS a SEXY y recibe consejos para atraer miradas y seguridad. (Do you want to shine sexy and sensual? Subscribe FREE (lie) to SEXY and receive advice to attract glances and self-confidence). I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Ya. Consider yourselves marinados.