Friday, July 9, 2010

First Impressions

Kristen says...

Today marks the beginning of my third full day here in Tegucigalpa, and already I have had a chance to come up with some first impressions about Honduras:

1. It is WAY more modern than I expected. This is sad, but the last time I really remember studying Latin America was 4th grade (1993-1994), and the textbooks we used, even then, were vastly outdated, from the 1980s, at least. So in my head I was moving to that place I enjoyed learning about over 15 years ago, which was pictured probably 10 years before that. Never in my wildest imagination did I imagine how very modern this place would be. Fast food, yes (where can't you find McDonald's these days?) but not the plethora or variety. Cars all over, and while they are not quite the brand new models all Americans seem to like to drive, they are not just little clunkers, either. I have been to or been driven past at least 3 shopping malls, with food courts, department stores, and multi-screen movie theaters. As I was trying to ascertain just what things I could get here, my Honduran friend said, "Ask me what you can't get here." And the answer was, not much. Almost anything you want, if you are willing and able to pay for it, is available in Honduras. It is modern.

2. Hondurans love fútbol. Oh wow, do they! I found this out on our first day here...many people were not at work, but were hanging out at the mall in an area set up with chairs and TVs, specifically for the World Cup. It reminded me strongly of the area set up at the Iowa State Fair for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Right next door to where we live there is an area where every night, without fail, people come and play fútbol. I don't know whether it's a league, or pickup, or what, but they are really into it. So too were the school children who came yesterday afternoon (it looked like a PE class?) to the same field. They also played, and were so into it both Chris and I left what we were doing to watch them as they enthusiastically cheered for EVERYONE who kicked the ball or made a goal. Our very first night, around 9:00 PM, we started hearing cheering, vuvuzelas, and whistles...apparently there is a field somewhere near for organized leagues to play...not the Estadio Nacional, which is on the other side of town, but just a local stadium that generates a lot of noise late at night. It's hard to be annoyed when the people are so obviously enjoying themselves.

3. Honduras has very different driving rules. My Honduran friend came up with another great quote about this. I remarked that, in the US, pedestrians have the right of way on the streets. She said, "In Honduras, pedestrians have the right to watch out!" Boy, was she right! Chris and I had our first experience of expanding our circle of comfort in Honduras yesterday. We walked down to a small mall near our apartment, window shopped for a while, and had our first experience of ordering our own food in Honduras (others had ordered for us the past two times we'd eaten out). That was exciting enough, but getting to the mall was the most interesting part. Some of the sidewalks were perfect, just like many in the US, but others were uneven, with cracks, or holes, and sometimes gaping areas where we had to walk on grass, either because there was no sidewalk or because there was a car parked so close to the sidewalk we had to move off it. That is one of the rules I've noticed: if you need to let someone off, you just pull off to the side of the road and stop. There don't seem to be any places you can't park. Also, if there is a space, go for it! Signal or not, it doesn't matter, as long as you don't hit anyone and they don't hit you. Honduran drivers seem to be very good at what they do, just not in the way I am used to. And there's no such thing as jaywalking: if there's a space and you can cross the road, you'd better go, whether or not you are at an intersection. I think I am going to like driving here, once I get used to it!! (Another thing I noticed, but haven't experienced fully--people try to sell you things when you're stopped at a light. If you keep your window up, they don't seem to bother you. I hope our car has air conditioning! :)

4. Spanish is necessary, but English-speakers tend to show up when you least expect them. For example, we were shopping at a fun store called "Stock," and were getting a little overwhelmed because we didn't know what we needed, what was a good price for things, where anything was in the store, and where the people we had come with (who spoke both Spanish and English) were at. Just when our frustration was reaching an apex, this young Latino man (probably no more than 22ish, whom I'd seen multiple times around the store) asked "Can I help you find something?" Just like that, my tension vanished. It's amazing what hearing your own language can do when you are overwhelmed! I talked with him for a bit and realized he couldn't help me find anything, but he had helped me relax a bit. We found our friends, and continued shopping. As we were checking out, an aid worker from Minnesota and her husband from New York asked us if we'd seen any molasses in Honduras? (We hadn't, since we'd only been here 2 days at that point.) Yesterday, we met a German who is living in the orphanage next door--she speaks German, English, Spanish, and a bit of French. And a Honduran man came with our real estate agent last night to translate and make sure everything was ok.

Yet we really do need to learn Spanish, if for no other reason than to be able to communicate with Wilmer, our, well, I don't want to call him a janitor because that seems to belittle all that he really is. Yes, he cleans some things, but he also has put together furniture for us, showed us around, helped program our TV, introduced us to his dog, and taught us some Spanish words. He is AWESOME, and if I learn Spanish for no other reason it will be so that I can tell him how great he is! Putting together a desk and a chair yesterday with him was a learning experience--it was one of those sink or swim times, where we had to use all our Spanish or we would have failed. (We didn't--tenemos una mesito de la laptop y una silla para la oficina.) Plus, I will never understand any of the television shows I'm watching if I don't learn Spanish! :)

5. Expect the unexpected. I need to let go of any other preconceived notions I have about Honduras. So far, I have been far off the mark. It's time to go out and widen our circle some more, to validate my first impressions and to make new ones. We have been here now for 72 hours and I have enjoyed them all, very much. I can't wait for the next 72, and the next, and the next...time to get out there and explore!



  1. Welcome - to urban Honduras. It's SO different here in the West of Honduras. The closest fast foods (American style)are in San Pedro Sula.

    Fútbol and driving are the same here. But we have tiny sidewalks where two people can barely pass each other.

    There are a few English speakers here - less than in the big cities, I suspect. And very few gringos.

    But what I love are the people in the countryside (as well as the kids I know from our comedor de niños and a kinder in a poor neighborhood.) That, for me, is the real Honduras

    So, enjoy your baleadas - but you'll probably have to wait for a trip out here for ticucos, thick tortillas, and riguas! And enjoy licuados and frescos naturales. (I hope you are getting enough mangos; it's the season)

    Above all, bienvenidos and God bless.

  2. So I thought I posted this comment earlier, but it's not showing up...

    Can I please discourage you from walking around in this city? Even just a few blocks can be dangerous. Most locals will tell you it's safe, that people walk everywhere all the time, but it's really not! #1, gringos are just screaming to be mugged because people think we have lots of money, and #2 most muggings occur at gun/knife point and, well, why would you want to risk experiencing that? I only know a handful of people in Tegus that haven't been mugged (and thank goodness it hasn't happened to me yet!). Spend the lempiras and take a taxi - even if it's just a few blocks. :)


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