Reading by the Caratera

The best part of old paperbacks is that they get lighter and lighter the more you read them, the more you pull them in and out of your back pocket, and even as they’re repeatedly rained on.

The best thing about reading Russian novels in Honduras is that I’m already accustomed to all the characters having four names, being introduced by their first and second name, and then, thereafter, always being referred to by their nickname …  who knew Kolya was Nikolai Ardalyonivitch?  I didn’t when he was referred to by that name suddenly on page 468.  Who knew that a “Chungo” was really  Jesus Antonio Vásquez  Remires?  (names approximated to protect from search-engine spiders) 

Some words about money.

Maybe because I’m a born American, I rely on money here as a way to make up for my inadequacies, for a lack of charisma or social worth.  I offer to pay people for what (I think) they shouldn’t be expected to provide out of the kindness of their heart.  And maybe because I’m an American, or maybe because I’m behaving like one in my self-conscious way, people come to expect money from me.  Very often though, out here, they seem perplexed about how much to ask for, and I always end up giving them more.
The sway of the mighty peso.
Money out in the poorer communities factors so little as a part of peoples’ lives that a question about what their monthly income is can be perplexing, and tends to bias their answers toward one catchall amount (500 lempiras, or about 25 dollars ) that can’t be accurate, since it is said by people that by other appearances vary quite significantly in income from one another—whether or not their children have pants or shoes, whether their floors are dirt or cement, whether there is plaster over their adobe (dirt and straw) houses.  Many people answer the question not in units of lempiras, the national currency, but in “pesos.”  While “pesos” is an idiom here for money in general, its use also speaks to the lack of an awareness, and the near irrelevance of money in the daily lives of people in the aldea of Guatincara.
Walking down a road I had gone part way down before, last week, I came across a dog and a horse in the middle of the road.  The dog was larger and healthier looking than most I’ve seen in Guatincara, and I only had the flimsiest of sticks in my hand, so I waited.  The horse was browsing by the side of the road a little further on, and I could hear branches crashing down, and through the fence up the road at the horses feet.  The dog was wagging its tail and looking back behind it toward the horse and the de-limbing activity, as it walked toward me—its tail stiffened as it approached.  I let it pass me and walked slowly across the road up the embankment toward the crashing limbs.  
A three foot tall man in one of those tuxedo-top t-shirts came out from behind come coffee bushes.  He was sturdily built. He had very wideset eyes and it was difficult for me to know for sure if he was looking at me.  I asked him if there were any houses nearby participating in the water-project.  
—Hay bastante casas, he said.
—Si, pero hay casas del proyecto cerca aquí?  I repeated.
—Hay casas bastante, he said, and then he hunched forward, with one hand on one of the coffee trees:
—Prestame cinco pesos.
—Prestame pesos, he saidagain.
—No los tengo.  I said.


Other than the scabs in many places in my body, from falling down a lot and being eaten by various invisible friends all over my body (though mostly my legs), things have gone well during my research time in Guatincara.  I did household interviews with all the permanent beneficiaries of the water project here, in about 50 homes, held a community forum that produced results that seemed to validate what I was finding in the household interviews, interviewed the president of the junta de agua here, and did an ‘infrastructure review’—ie walked the water system’s conduction line with various people.  Population density here is low, and as I’ve found to be typical of this part of Honduras, many of the houses are set off the roads or established paths, making a local guide a necessity.  The guide is also necessary, I’ve found, to ease the awkwardness of the encounter with this strange outsider.  The shier respondents—usually women in the poorer households—will look at the guide, while I ask questions, and I’ll hear the guide repeat the questions I just asked, and the housholder will then respond to the guide, between tending to her child and making tortillas.  The Threats to Validity in this situation are many, of course, but I’ve found it impractical to use assistants to conduct interviews, since it’s been impossible to retain this kind of consistent help.  People are indifferent here to offers of money have lots of other work to do in the business of surviving.  Not that I really have money to spare. 

The night before last, after the forum was over, I walked out of Guatincara in the mud and rain, with my driver walking behind me carrying his bottles of diesal in hand.  After about an hour and a half of crab-walking the 4x4 up a 30-foot stretch of rutted clay and mud, sometimes getting out of the truck to throw debree under the wheels to get more traction, any traction, we were irrevocably stuck.  If anybody asks me why I didnt randomly sample from the organizations service area here, I would tell them I would have needed a monster truck driven by a statistician to make it through the very special ‘cluster’ that is southern Lempira in the summer.

My house in Guatincara.

Against nostalgia.  The Ferria changed things a bit last weekend.  This was the scene sunday.  Then a legion of old ladies with pushbrooms was out Monday morning and the basura and barrachos were gone.

street life in Candelaria

Postcard Honduras … Candelaria from the back porch

In Candelaria

I bought this kind of post-card because this is what we do when we want to show how aware we are of the pretentiousness of tourism—we buy post-cards that are selling the false memories. But I guess this is painted by a painter from Lempira, it’s pretty close to a representation of candelaria from my back porch.

Candelaria to my innocent eyes seems to embody this pastoral familiarity. I say this having already been befriended by the town drunk, Solomon, who has taught me a little karate—he tells me the secret is in the mind. I say this also knowing that it’s out in the pastures that people have it the roughest. The city has potable water and waste-water systems that would be the envy of some small communities in the US (many in Arkansas and West Virginia have to be doing worse), with a well-maintained slow-sand filtration potable water plant and a functional settling and passive aeration system for its waste-water.

Yet, according to the strategic plan of the Comité Central Pro Agua y Desarrollo Integral de Lempira, based in Candelaria,fifty-percent of the municipality is still—in the insensitive parlance of public health—open defecating. So far my view of Candelaria is as a place that is perched somewhere between the benefits and problems of Development, but which as a community is trying to navigate the course to a healthier life in a self-sustaining way. This part of Honduras is not inflicted by the violence of narco-trafficing, as parts of Copan are, or the history of banana republicanism, evidenced in the maquilas and banana farms around San Pedro. The city demonstrates is progressivism openly, as was on display yesterday in a parade of all of its political and educational groups as part of the downs Ferria, celebrating it’s 404th birthday. Apparently both the mayor and the priest are suppporters of “la Resistencia,” which challenges the authority of the coups that removed Zelaya in 2009—and by implication they are in opposition to the current government. The organizational complexity with which the Comitè is structured in its development work throughout southern Lempira is what I expect of political organizations in the Spanish-speaking world, full of lengthy organizational acronyms at every municipal and sub-municipal stage. I’m looking forward to getting more acquainted with the subjunctive mood by continuing to read their book of articles and regulations for the local juntas de agua. So far their humoring of outside evaluators—sent by external funding agencies—seems unnecessary. But I know they expect it. That, no doubt, is also part of living and working here.

American breakfast $$

This is the crowded scene in front of the Wester Union on Monday morning as I ate my Desayuno Americano across the street.  (At least 29% of the Honduran GDP comes from US remittances via laboring relatives in the US—one of the largest sources of cash here.)  As for myself, I hope that this restaurant takes credit cards, because there isn’t a cash machine for a hundred miles.