Monday, October 12, 2009

Dear San Pedro Sula

-From my journal
July 24, 2009

I am sitting here with my Port Royal brewski and a bag of limon y chile peanuts for my happy hour, content to be on an adventure again. This Honduran metropolis, San Pedro Sula, I find myself in longer than ever anticipated due to the indescribable comotion that our deposed president is stirring up. I was suppposed to be getting into Managua, Nicaragua by now, however, this assumed golpe de estado has turned my summer international travel plans down detour alley. I find SAP ( San Pedro Sula), like so many places in developing countries, absolutely fascinating. There are so many social challenges. There may not be a caste system as in India, but it seems that like in other unevenly-distributed, wealth-seeking societies, every social stratum has their role, like it or not.
So here we are, all shuffled in the mix, blaming our neighbors or cooperating with them, marching for or against the powers that govern us, but what intrigues me the most is the over emphasis on the whole and the ignor-ance of the individual. Funny, as I write that word 'ignorance', I realize that if you move the accent it takes on a whole different meaning, IGNOR-ance. One meaning seems to stem from the other.
As I stroll or bike around SAP, I achieve immediate popularity, almost stardom! Especially with my $2 sunglasses, but shhhhh! (Marshall's hasn't gotten here yet, everyone thinks they're evidence of my grand wealth.) In a country where most people are happy to have any amount of money exchanged in their hands, I AM rich. I must truly be a sight on my friend's second-hand stolen then spray painted bike. I ride over narrow bridges and merge into the oncoming traffic, passing settlements full of dusty, corragated metal shacks, bursting into the neighboring field or gated community. I've got all 6'0 of me peddling and sweating, puffing from under my fake raybans. Never a peep out of the few women I pass, they are modestly carrying children or plates of 'plato tipico' or flashily scurrying along in high heels and great hair. But the men love to talk to me. One even followed me into a department store and shuffled behind me, waiting for the right moment to leap, but was instantly picked up by the 10 bored, unoccupied clerks. It seemed I was the only one shopping.
This particular trip into an urban, impoverished nation's main city, I feel a little more cautious. No doubt my loved ones have voiced certain concern about traveling at this particular time. Although it can be tempting, I am learning as I age, to stay away from huge mobs of people in places where more people carry a gun than can read a Dr. Seuss book.
The necessary security measures are shocking. There is high voltage fencing that runs on top of the wall that in order to get through, I have to open a series of iron gates. Finally, I unlock the deadbolt to the apartment and it has only taken about 5 minutes to unlock and re-lock all the gates.
There is also the obscure, completely black tinted windows on shiny rims, slowly rolling past, or when the taxi driver asks me if someone is waiting for me at my destination. Huh??? Let's not get alarmed, as in any case, the good outweigh the bad.
As I search for a little shop to buy a beer in the neighborhood, I realize why the old man who sells chips and baby diapers from his front living room doesn't sell beer. He sends us thirsty souls down the street to wiggle around drunk guys on crates enjoying their liquor consumption to the fullest.
Then there are all of these watchies(guards). They sit there for a 12 hour shift, earning no more than $15/day watching the richest people in the country come and go with their shiny paint jobs and pissy pedigree poodles, only to return to the corrugated metal and rusty barbed wire that awaits them in their kingdom.
Later, I walk into the TGIF's because they are showing CNN in Spanish with live coverage of the ever exciting failed Zelaya attempts to enter the country. That is a whole story all together.
As I sit there, sipping my Bahama Mama happy hour special, as the only unaccompanied female in the place, I am privelged to watch, simultaneously, thousands of anti-Mel protestors just minutes down the street and on the other tv, Mel Zelaya chomping on fruit as he unenthusiastically talks on his cell phone at the southern Honduran border. The camera shows him getting in and out of his Venezuelan-bought Jeep Wrangler, drinking a soda, with the attention of the world. Strange, this dude, ultra clear and up close camera view, is personally driving his own car into a country that has banned him AND where 10's of thousands of his patria are protesting against his return. Aside from the comical theatrics, all under the shade of his white western-style cowboy brim, the camera stares at Zelaya as he holds his personal cell phone up to one of his followers so that this random guy can submit some future, polarizing news bit, live from the scene of the political injustice.
I realize, walking home from the mall, where the only purchase I witness from a Honduran is that of a $2 notebook, that even the rich are oppressed here. In a city where you are either the hunted or hunting, you can't opt out and become an individual. It is near impossible to stand up in the face of the poverty and class divide, and tear down the barbed wire or turn off your high voltage. Simply put, you are a target-another victim of the unequal distribution of wealth, as are millions of your starving countrymen. People in rich neighborhoods don't go outside their houses, they don't have block parties or garage sales. Their kids don't ride bikes in the streets. Maybe it is because they are snobs and have better things to do. But maybe it is because of the way things are; they are forced to choose to be a part of a community and relinquish material comforts or wind barbed wire around anything they've earned because starving people, starving for many reasons, gotsta eat!

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