One year ago today…

June 29, 2010

After spending a day buried deep in writing about the political and economic history of Honduras for my thesis, the last thing I really feel like doing this evening is more writing.  And yet as the sun sets in NZ and rises on Honduras on June 28 2010, I want to add my two cents (lempiras?) worth to the discussion surrounding the one year anniversary of the coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, and which is still not over. Not that I would really characterise it as a conversation, with the two sides still firmly entrenched and with such different and conflicting narratives as this and this.

One year ago we had just arrived in Honduras for nine months of graduate research for my PhD.  While I was well-versed in development theory, and somewhat familiar with the Honduran context I had limited understanding of Honduran politics – after all, I was studying grassroots development and ICT, not political science (although my Honduran husband majored in politics).  Over the next few months I had a crash course, reading all I could from both sides and talking with people on both sides of the divide (often to the detriment of my field research work).

Because I felt unqualified to comment, and because I was worried about my research community (mostly pro-coup) I didn’t write much about the coup for a while.  But it didn’t take long for me to figure out some key truths about who was doing the talking, although I have to confess to becoming heartily sick of the use of the word truth, which was manipulated in many ways in the months following the coup. Eventually, with some trepidation, I came out as resistencia. My reasons for doing so still stand, and another nine months of reading and research have only strengthened my support. In fact nine months after I wrote that post have strongly reinforced the final reason I gave in that most – that this was a clearly a coup to protect the status quo, not for change.

This is something that had really struck me as have been writing the Honduras background information for my thesis. Coups, constitutional manipulations, the use and misuse of power by oligarchs, the business community and the military, corruption, international meddling… there ‘s really nothing new under the Honduran sun (including the names of those involved). Understanding the history of Honduras places so much of what happened last year into context. The coup of 2009 is easily seen as one more attempt by the Honduran ruling elite to maintain their own position, to protect the interests of big business and ensure Honduras remains on a neo-liberal path, following the same policies that have lead to the dire poverty and inequality we see in Honduras today. And so in 2010, under the un-democratically elected Porfirio Lobo, it is literally ‘business as usual’.

But something is different this time. Zelaya may be gone but the events of 28 June 2009 were the spark that ignited a new force for change.  The coup has bought together labour unions, campesino and indigenous groups, womens groups, LGBT groups, academics… Hondurans from across the social spectrum, in a peaceful effort to ‘re-found’ Honduras. The traditional media and the coup supporters may sneer and label them misinformed agitators and haters, but I believe they misunderstand and underestimate the resistencia, the emergence of which is something of huge historical significance in Honduras (although given the human rights abuses directed at the resistencia I suspect the government understands this significance!).

I might not be Honduran, or even in Honduras at this time, but I know with whom I stand this June 28. Not next to the powerful, but with the poor, the indigenous, the disabled, the women and children who have been left behind by Honduran economic ‘development’ time and time again. I do not know what the future will bring, but I do hope that the historical cycle will not continue to repeat and that one day, soon, real change will come to Honduras. The resistencia might not be perfect, but I see more hope there than with any amount of international development aid.



March 23, 2010

Some quotes that are inspiring me as I start the writing journey:

Might it be possible to use other scholarly skills, including the ability to tell a story that both acknowledges imperial power and leaves room for possibility?
-Anna Tsing (Friction, 2005, p267)

What if we were to accept that the goal of theory is not to extend knowledge by confirming what we already know, that the world is a place of economic domination, conflict and oppression? What if we asked theory instead to help us see openings, to enable us to find happiness, to provide a space of freedom and possibility?
-J.K. Gibson-Graham, (A Postcapitalist Politics, 2006 p7)

In a time so widely understood by Hondurans to be one of desperation, it is my hope that they will have full support from one another and from those of us who cannot claim to understand Honduran habitus but who find ourselves struggling against the same agents of violence… it may be unstable but our compassion must not wither.
-Adrienne Pine (Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras, 2008, p203)

Although we are back in New Zealand I have been trying to follow the continuing political events in Honduras, although it is somewhat depressing.  Unsurprisingly the coup goes on, and coup participants have been appointed to important posts.  Fortunately (although under-reported) the resistance continues the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular of Honduras holds its second Encuentro Nacional por la Refundación de Honduras (National Meeting for the Refounding of Honduras). The Frente is aiming for a constitutional assembly, in order to create a democratic, inclusive and participatory Constitution.  For more information about the Frente and the ongoing events in Honduras check Quotha and the Honduran Culture and Politics blog, both written by academics with close ties to Honduras.

Another blog favourite of mine is Mama PhD, and this week Math Geek Mom wrote a post on her thoughts on “We are the World” asking about what Americans can do to help the poor in other parts of the world.  Unfortunately (but perhaps not surprisingly) until I commented she hadn’t had any comments, which is a shame as it would have been interesting to see a discussion on the topic.

On the topic of poverty Delia Christina of  Bitch, PhD has a post up titled If only the poor were more like me, which comments on a post by the Fat Nutritionist. Her final line: “So until we are prepared to solve the ‘problem’ of their poverty first, perhaps we should keep mum with our ‘advice’ to poor families about making better nutritional ‘choices’.” I agree entirely. Interestingly, it follows a similar line of reasoning to two development related posts this week, Drinking our own ORS by Blood and Milk, and Would you be willing to do this by Good Intentions are not Enough.  These posts pose difficult questions about the kind of advice and aid we give people, while we ourselves live comfortably.

Finally, on a lighter note, I really enjoyed Serious Eats bean to bar tutorial on Understanding Chocolate Basics, and this photo from Antigua Daily Photo, which is so me…


March 10, 2010

I’m supposed to be happy.  We are back in NZ, have finally found and moved into a cute little house near the centre of town.  I love being back in my academic community, where I have my desk in a corner cubicle by the windows in a 3rd floor office with a view of trees and gardens.  I have almost all my research data in and am almost ready to write. I love that my daughter can now take dance classes and has settled right back into childcare like she never left (as her teacher said – only with more confidence!). I love that she has a school to go to – a good one, close, and one where friends will be. I love coffees and wine and plums and supermarkets and vege gardens and cheese and free buses.

But I’m not particularly happy.  I’m feeling very unsettled and I’m struggling to pinpoint why.

While I knew I would miss certain things about Honduras (the finca, the culture, the friends, the food) I didn’t really expect that I would feel so much like I left part of my heart there. I just feel like something is really missing.  I feel sad for family friends that I know are missing us.  I feel sad that my daughter and husband are missing their friends and the lifestyle they really enjoyed there.  We had become a part of a very special community and we just don’t know when we’ll be able to go back.

I had been looking forward to coming home and getting settled. But settling down is scary. As I unpack our boxes and set up a house I am not enjoying it as I thought I would be. This is permanent. We are not travelling again anytime soon. After a month of planes and hotels and staying in other people’s homes I had thought I had had enough of travelling but the idea of not travelling (by travelling I mean spending weeks or months or years in different places) for a long time, of not know when we might travel again is actually very sad. I had said that the next trip won’t be Honduras, I want to explore other parts of the globe, but it makes me feel even sadder not knowing when we might be back in Honduras.

I don’t really know what the future holds. I have said we will now stay put until the thesis is done. Thats a lot of work. It will be at the very minimum a year, possibly 18 months, hopefully not 2 years.  Then I need to find work. Where? What? Move? I don’t want to move. I’m not ready to stay. The future should be promising at this point but after all the disappointments and set backs of the last decade I’m not as optomistic as I used to be. Would it be easier to settle down if I knew we would have jobs and income? If I knew I could write this thesis in 6 months and get on with it? On with what?

So settling back into life in NZ feels unsettled. Cultural adjustment issues. Missing Honduras issues. Future worries. I should have but didn’t anticipate this. But the journey continues and I now must keep on. Keep smiling. Keep working. Maybe eventually my mind and my heart will catch up with my body and I’ll settle.

Someone once told me that for those is cross-cultural relationships the happiest place is somewhere in the air, between two places.  It’s true for me, especially now I have lived in Honduras for a while.  No place can be perfect again, something will always be missing no matter where we are.

All too often the news and talk about Honduras is negative.  The political situation is ugly.  The poverty is terrible.  Life is hard.  It’s true, and yet only half the story.  When we leave in 2 weeks time I will take with me more positive memories than negative.  There will be lots of things I won’t miss but more that I will.

I’ll miss the warm sunshine and being able to wear a t-shirt or light dress (almost) every day.  I’ll miss the orange trees, fresh mangoes and sweet pineapple.   I’ll miss baleadas, burras for breakfast and liquados for lunch.  I’ll miss saying “buenas” all the way up and down the street and the smiles of strangers.  I’ll miss the snatches of music everywhere (although maybe not the ear-destroying blasts of the malls and buses), fiestas and carneadas, the simplicity of daily life.

Most of all I’ll miss the friends we’ve made and the community we’ve found.  Cohesive, functioning and caring rural communities do exist in Honduras, and we were lucky enough to experience living in one.

But I’m thinking more and more about New Zealand.  About my family there and the niece I have barely met.  My academic community that I have missed so much.  Having our own “stuff” back and a more permanent home to keep it in.  Good wine, cheese and fresh, tasty bread.  I’m ready to go home.

But I’m not ready to leave.

Where should we live?  Why do we need to choose?

I had the best of intentions to make this a regular Sunday feature but reality got in the way already.  My cellular modem has died.  Give that we leave the country in three weeks I’m not going to buy a new one, so will only be accessing the internet on campus.  Out of office hours this means either a trip to the café on campus or no internet, so while I still like the idea of the Sunday Reader and will try to get something our, I can’t guarantee it will be on Sundays for a while!

The big news of the past week was of course the earthquake in Haiti.  My reader has been crammed with news and blogs posts covering all aspects of the disaster.  Like many my heart goes out to the people of Haiti, and I wish I could pack my bag and take my rusty nursing skills to Haiti to help.  In a post on Aid Watchers, Alanna Shaikh reminds me why this isn’t really a good idea, and other ways not to help in Haiti.   Another aid worker blog, Good Intentions are Not Enough also outlines the dos and don’ts of disaster donations.  Remember, the best ‘help’ is a money donation to a reputable aid agency (but watch out for Disaster scams).  My recommendation was, and continues to be Partners in Health.

On slightly different notes, Upside Down Under quotes some numbers and facts from Haiti and Afghanistan that are more than a little eye-opening, and Campus Progress reminds us to be wary of mainstream media reports in The Looting Lie.

On a completely different note there has been an ongoing discussion in the feminist blogosphere about ‘pink’ for girls.  As the mother of a 4-year old daughter, who despite my best efforts still prefers her toys pink, this scene is unfortunately too familiar.  This is actually closer to my childhood experience, and I’m nostalgic too.  But it may not be all bad, Dana Campbell, on Mama, PhD has posted some interesting thoughts on marketing pink, and notes that ‘even if it’s made out of solid gold, a microscope is not going to go very far in inspiring a kid’s interest in science UNLESS there’s an enthusiastic, encouraging, role model beside that kid to help him or her discover it’.  I guess that’s my job!

From Honduras:  Adrienne Pine of Quotha reminds us of some things we shouldn’t forget.

Finally, a new ‘find’ for my reader, 1000 awesome things.  There should be something in here to make you smile.  I like this (although it doesn’t happen often enough) and this (something to look forward to in NZ) and this

Remember, I did warn in the first Sunday Reader that things could be rather eclectic here!

Sunday Reader

January 11, 2010

I confess.  I am a Google Reader addict.  I skim through hundreds of blog posts and articles each week, faithfully sharing those that I find interesting, challenging or simply fun.  As one of my favourite types of blog post is the linky type (I love finding new sites and blogs and can spend hours following rabbit holes across the web) I thought I would start my own regular link feature.  My web reading tastes are eclectic so this should be an interesting exercise… expect lots of social justice and development stuff, politics, culture, academia, some recipes I’ve tried and some just for fun. Enjoy the rabbit holes!

First up, Why Does the World’s Most Popular TV Show Feature a Misanthrope Who Gets Away with Everything? I’ve been watching a lot of House lately.  My excuse is that it is on every night here, nicely timed for an hour when my daughter is asleep, work is done and I am ready to curl up with a wine or hot chocolate and relax.  Quite why I find watching a character so abrasive, manipulative and insensitive to be relaxing I’m not sure… perhaps because he says and does some of the things I only wished I could in my past life as a nurse. Whatever the reason, he’s far more interesting to watch than the one-dimensional, polished characters on many other shows.

In addition to watching House, my other evening routine is Facebook, and this week I succumbed to the bra colour meme, seemingly a bit of harmless fun with friends in order to raise awareness for breast cancer.  But I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it, which I put down to the fact that I couldn’t see how it would actually help the cause in any meaningful way.  Saundra Schimmelpfennig of Good Intentions are Not Enough makes a more discomforting point, asking if charity activities can actually hurt the very people they are trying to help, pointing out that mis-guided charity events may loose sight, and unintentionally cause pain to beneficiaries.  Saundra has also written an interesting series on Guidelines for Volunteering Overseas, something I am planning to do more writing on and therefore something which you may see more about in this blog this year.

Here in Honduras, the elections are over and day to day life goes on seemingly normally. However the reality is that the crisis is not over.  Just yesterday Quotha reported a Massacre in Aguán, which the police and army argue is a “normal eviction”.  If even half of what is reported by Quotha is true, then this is a “normal” that needs to be challenged and changed.  Other ongoing concerns in Honduras include reports that Honduras is broke, and continuing repression of opposition media outlets. Incidentally, both blogs linked here (Quotha and Honduras Coup 2009) are written by academics with long-standing, close ties to Honduras and contacts within the resistance movement, and I trust them.

Of course in addition to obsessively following the news and spending hours with my google reader I am supposed to be writing my PhD thesis this year.  This image from indexed kind of sums up the year ahead of me.  Maybe I need to study more closely Lifehacker’s advice on better tools for better students.

Finally, this recipe for Chicken with Citrus Sauce is amazing! Lucky we are living in a citrus orchard.

As I finish up my work here in Honduras and look towards our return to New Zealand next month, I have been thinking more and more about the logistics of finding a new home and getting settled again. While it is tempting to rush in and enjoy all the conveniences I have missed over the past 7 months (a big fridge! a real stove! my little espresso machine!) being in Honduras has taught me that it is actually not difficult to live with few pocessions and basic bathroom and cooking facilities (although I’m completely over sharing them with ants, spiders, scorpions and centepedes!).  The post “Need” and the Standard of Living on the Sociological Images blog (and the original slide show Planet Slum) also help to remind me that what I ‘need’ is not always a need. What I do need, as I start the process of setting up a new home, is to think more carefully about the resources I am using.  What do we really, actually need, what are the luxuries I really genuinely love and which make our lives more pleasant and enjoyable, and what are the ‘needs’ that we can do without.

Good-bye Old Year

January 1, 2010

Happy New Year! Well, maybe not so happy for this guy. In the last few days of December Hondurans make life-sized stuffed dolls – the “Año Viejo” (old year), and stuff them with rags, straw and whatever fireworks can be they can obtain and/or fit in. They displayed outside homes until mid-night on the 31st when they are burned in a symbolic burning away of all that was bad of the old year. So this old man is destined to burn tonight.

This particular Año Viejo has “soy golpista” (I am a coup supporter) written on his shirt. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what the maker of this Año Viejo would like to burn away this new years eve.  The elections might be over and the golpistas secure in their plans, but as this old man shows, the resistance has not disappeared.  I’m hoping the new year brings more peaceful, clever and courageous actions to push back the golpistas and bring real change to Honduras.

Christmas in Honduras

December 30, 2009

My first Honduran Christmas, 5 years ago was a small family party.  Suffering from pregnancy related morning sickness, and very homesick I didn’t really enjoy it.  This year was different.  Noisy, sometimes chaotic, and a lot of fun, it was completely different to any Christmas I have ever had. Here’s some photos and thoughts on our Honduran Christmas.

Christmas starts here at the end of October when Christmas trees and decorations begin appearing in public spaces.  The malls in particular seem to be trying to outdo each other with the size and decoration of their trees – these two toy-covered trees are at two different malls in Tegucigalpa.

Decorations in Honduras are not all about the trees however, and naticity scenes (nacimientos) are very traditional.  This one was also at a mall.

While I am used to nativity scenes of the stable, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and the animals et al, Honduran nacimientos are often large and show multiple scenes.  The mall nacimiento showed village and town scenes, and a series of scenes related to the current political events.  This one shows President Zelaya being removed from his bed by the military, with the plane waiting to take him to Costa Rica.  Others showed Micheletti accepting the presidency, the elections, and the resistencia.  The whole series was fascinating and I’ve been meaning to give it a post of it’s own.  Maybe I should.

Being here only temporarily we didn’t want to invest a lot in a tree and decorations so we had fun improvising.  Our tree was a small live pine from the vivero (plant nursery) next door, decorated with small ribbon bows, Ferero Rocher balls, a set of cheap lights and a $1 corn husk angel. Other decorations included paper angels and snowflakes made by myself and my daughter, and a beautiful poinsettia, also from the vivero next door.

Of course being temporary here didn’t mean we weren’t able to enjoy some other Christmas traditions like baking and eating.  This is the non-ginger gingerbread house my daughter and I made (I couldn’t find ginger in Tegucigalpa so we made the gingerbread from spice cookie dough – it was very yummy and might well become a permanent substitute in our house!).

The nacimiento above is in the home of a relative of my husbands’. On Christmas Eve we spent most of the afternoon and part of the evening visiting friends and relatives.  This is actually a very traditional way to spent Christmas Eve, going from house to house visiting (and eating nacatamales!).  We started early, travelling an hour to visit with my husbands family before returning to home to visit friends here.

Another family nacimiento complete with blown egg people (named after relatives!) and other hand-made decorations.

After the visiting we returned home and joined our neighbours for the rest of the evening.  Hondurans celebrate on Christmas Eve and celebrate we did.  I don’t have many photos of this, but it included plenty of food, alcohol, dancing and fireworks!  The food was an interesting mix.  The family is mixed Honduran -American and so there was turkey with cranberries and mashed potato alongside a Honduran ‘carneada’ (bbq) with plenty of meat and tortillas.

We almost missed the midnight celebration (hugs and kisses, fireworks and present exchange) as my daughter finally crashed just before midnight despite the noise.  The party was still in full swing when I went to bed at 3am.

Despite the late night our lovely 4 year old was up at 6:45 and looking for her presents from Santa.  We managed to squeeze another half hour or so in bed while she emptied her stocking and watched a DVD, but eventually we had to get up.  While Hondurans open presents on Christmas Eve, we kept most of our family presents and a couple of “Santa” ones to be opened on Christmas morning as is the NZ tradition.  The rest of the day was very quiet.  Very very quiet, with most part-goers only crawling out into the sunshine sometime around mid-day.  We didn’t do a big Christmas lunch, but I had managed to find some good ham and enjoyed that for lunch with lots of fresh vegetables, in a semi-traditional kiwi way.  My daughter enjoyed hers with tortillas, and my Honduran husband enjoyed more nacatamales.

While I still find it hard to be away at Christmas, and miss my family in NZ (and Christmas mince pies and pavlova with real cream) this was a good Christmas and a lot of fun. I feel blessed to be able to share in the traditions of another culture and we will certainly be keeping both Honduran and Kiwi traditions each Christmas as much as we can. Now to get lots of rest and prepare myself for a real Honduran New Years…