My home for the year is a small town of about 40,000 people, according to a fellow volunteer. Located 24km/14.9mi/a 1 hour bus ride away is the nearest and second largest city in Honduras, San Pedro Sula.
This is the street in front of our house, or really any house in our immediate neighborhood. Occasionally there are sidewalks, but these are narrow and often change levels or are crowded with goods or people, and it can be easier just to ignore the honking and hooting and dodge the cars and tuk-tuks and walk in the street. The houses and buildings tend toward cement bodies, tin roofs, and some disrepair, are surrounded by a cement wall or wrought iron fence, with a crowded clothesline and plastic chairs visible. A family member rests on a stoop or leans in the doorway. The wealthier homes are painted. The Small House is a neon green; others are tri-color. Our street – and did I mention there are few street names? – is a blend of homes and homes + pulperias (those little stores, remember?). Trees, shrubs, weeds, dust abound.
Depending on the heat, it’s about a 7-10 minute stroll to the town center, and the little stores rapidly multiply and now sell everything from used clothing, car parts, cell phones, tile and toilets, and school uniforms. With few exceptions, all are tiny and crammed with goods. Along the way is also Dentista Hernandez, a large smiling mouth painted on the wall, and at least one clínica. Because of the lack of street names and obvious landmarks, town center serves as my and Vee’s home base for exploration. The center is crammed with stores and more food vendors, including freestanding carts and tables with portable gas ranges in the park. This is where the bank (armed guard included) and mattress vendor are located. The square is always crowded, or maybe it just feels that way because of the vehicles and heat and attention.
On the topic of attention, yes, the stereotype is accurate. Men, all men under 70, little boys, turn, leer, and make greetings or comments, sometimes Spanish (qué bonita), sometimes English (I love you), to the female volunteers. They lean from tuk-tuks, cars, and doorways. They honk. And if you’re in an eatery, they might just sit at a table and stare. For the most part, except for that last example, and depending on the location, it feels harmless and slips immediately from my mind, but, I have to wonder, to what end do they do this? I suspect that if these men did a scientific analysis of their approach, they’d learn it had at least a 90% failure rate. Don’t most, if not all, of our interactions have an end goal? So what is theirs? I’ve read that I should consider it a compliment, and I can temporarily see through those lenses, but the commentary certainly is uninspired (Well, there was the tuk-tuk driver that called our volunteer coordinator “Sunshine of my heart.”). Maybe I will figure this out, if there is anything to figure, by the end of the trip. Please, if you have the answer, don’t tell me. Not to say that all men are like this, and those that know we are volunteers tend to be respectful.
The women, on the other hand, are much easier to relax with. In the States I tend to do the where do I put my eyes thing when I pass by someone. Usually the other person is doing the same, which is really silly, because why are we pretending the other person doesn’t exist in this temporarily shared space? Anyway, I tend to consciously make eye contact and smile at the women, and kids, and they usually give a genuine smile in return.
Skinny mutt dogs, the females with well-worn nipples, roam freely. And while they are used as guard dogs and are probably fierce when at home, still, I just see semi-starved little animals with dopey happy expressions on their faces. Scrawny chickens poke around the side streets. Lizards dart everywhere. Oh, and yesterday we had a spider about the size of my hand in the kitchen.
So that’s a snapshot of the town. I wish I knew more of it but wandering freely isn’t as possible as I was lead to believe, and the returning volunteers, i.e. suitable guides, are world-weary with the town and its offerings. In the meantime Vee and I poke around, buying groceries, school appropriate clothing, or just walking, expanding our borders where possible. But I am patient, and the lack of freedom forces me to focus on class planning. Less than a week!
The other night we had baleadas. So fresh! so wonderful! so full of yum!
P.S. If you zoom in on the figure to the right hand side of the first picture you’ll see a little girl on a scooter. She made sure I was watching as she took off down the rocky hill in front of our house. [Actually, the way the blog is formatted, you can’t zoom in, but trust me, she’s there. Still learning WordPress.]