Postcards from:San Pedro Sula Honduras
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Back Home in California
Hello from San Pedro Sula Honduras,
The $39 flight from Tegucigalpa had plenty of empty seats, despite the airline agent at the check-in counter telling me she had no seats left to sell. What she meant I am sure, is that no seats remained for the link from San Pedro Sula onward to Belize City which I had booked earlier.
At the arrival airport the usual crowd of taxi touts buzzed around drumming up business. When asked about alternate transportation options into town, the smirking taxi agent informed me I must take a taxi. Well... I MUST do nothing of the sort. To my surprise, there is no shuttle or airport bus into the city center from the airport and the closest city bus stop meant walking about two kilometers out the airport access road to the highway, but off I trotted.
After a short wait on the highway a city bus stopped and got me within several blocks of the Parque Central plaza where some of the better hotels are located. Fumbling with broken Spanish for directions, a young couple with a baby offered to walk me in the right direction. Soon, I could see what appeared to be one of the hotels and thanked my guides. The Gran Hotel Sula sits directly opposite the main plaza and the "promotional rate" of $60 sounded pretty good for the excellent room they showed me. To my delight the hotel has installed a fast wireless network connected to the Internet and my little iPAQ provided flawless access throughout my stay.
I puzzled over the matrix of fine fishing lines crisscrossing the area above the hotel's outdoor dining and pool, then noticed the cloud of pigeons orbiting around the hotel. I'll bet there were some pretty startled birds until they learned how to avoid the menacing invisible barriers.
Honduras produces some of the best coffee in the world and local hotels always brew an excellent cup, unlike Columbia where all the best beans were exported, leaving none for local consumption during my visit a decade ago. Fresh, picked after ripening tropical fruit is commonly included with most meals. Hotel chefs cover fried eggs during the cooking process to speed heating of the top layer and thus keeping the yokes liquid for "sunny side up" orders.
San Pedro Sula is exciting to explore, being a mix of old traditional areas and modern developments. The city is billed as the commercial capital of the country. Within a block of my hotel I found every American fast food joint one might find in any medium sized American city... plus a few modern local imitations. I walked many hours everyday exploring the 20 by 20 block layout.
Street vendors sell foods of all kinds: pineapple slices, cooked bananas, bags of nuts, clear plastic bags of iced-tea and juices. There is a pervasive odor here that may be burning corn husks mingled with the smells of peeled fruits. Money changers congregate in one particular corner of the busy commercial area near the hotel. A social hierarchy allows certain guys to get first pick of the tourists. One divisive fellow offered me a good rate, but when I showed him my twenty dollar bill he managed to manipulate his calculator so that it showed the results of using a lower rate. I declined.
There are a lot of poor people spending their days in the city. Some beg; some act as vendors selling tourist items or plastic bags of water. Many just lay around on flattened pieces of cardboard, sleeping at all hours of the day and night. It reminded me of the big cities in India a couple decades ago. During my visit to India last year I saw many fewer street people camping on sidewalks in the cities.
Out in the residential area I saw a gardener bent over cutting the grass with a machete, using it like a scythe. I don´t think there is a single lawn mower in all of Central America and if there is one, it no doubt was brought down by an ex-pat American. Where power is justified for cutting grass or weeds, the device of choice is a Weed-Whacker.
In the Guamilito Mercado a few blocks from the city center I found the usual array of vendors selling every imaginable product and produce. Within the cavernous covered warehouse divided into fifteen or so 30 meter long isles, three were devoted exclusively to Tortilleria cubicles where women of various ages were hand making tortillas and pupusas, those four inch diameter fat tortillas.
While wandering around this fascinating market I ran into two large groups of missionaries playing tourist before heading back home to America. One group proudly announced they followed some particularly charismatic leader from Alabama, so popular they were surprised I hadn't heard of him. They came here to build a Baptist Church for a congregation of about 100. Another group came from Georgia representing the Global Work Force, an evangelical group that ministers to the poor.
One of the July issues of the English language newspaper, Honduras This Week featured an article entitled "Social Tourism." In it they identified 24 separate American missions to Honduras during the month of June sponsored by religious organizations, mostly fundamentalist Christian churches from the Bible belt states. The authors claim there might be ten times that many during the month as they made no effort to be comprehensive. I have been doing my own census and have met people on one or two week missions in every up scale hotel in which I've spent time. Several have been medical missions providing services to very poor villages. Others have been construction projects. All of my respondents gave one of the "Old South" states as their home base and most unabashedly announced their primary mission included evangelism. One Episcopal group emphatically denied any evangelical objectives; "We are here to help very poor people in whatever way we can. We don't even mention our religious affiliations." However, most made it very clear their welcomed help provided an opportunity to spread whatever religious message they carried.
A few of the more starry eyed zealots made me uncomfortable with their use of evangelical language, language no doubt designed to ensnare the vulnerable... even after I made it clear I followed an entirely different spiritual path. Those encounters did give me occasions to ponder the provocative nature of aggressive religious practices. Fanatical beliefs are not restricted to the violent fundamentalist fringe in the Muslim world. We have our own share in America, a country founded on liberty and religious freedom. I've appended a letter to the editor sent by someone to the Honduras This Week newspaper; not every Honduran is happy to see the flock of missionaries "who swoop down on Honduras like a flock of hungry vultures." For an interesting examination of the public policy dimensions of religion, check here.
Fred L Bellomy
PS: From the Honduras This Week English language newspaper...
A NEW KIND OF TROJAN HORSE
In addition to ferreting out drug dealers and other profiteers, attention ought also be focused on another scourge — the tsunami of “missionaries” (mostly Americans) who swoop down on Honduras like a flock of hungry vultures. Soul-saving has become a thriving enterprise but there is evidence that the might and nascent political ambitions of Honduran “pastores” may be more than just coincidence.
I believe this phenomenon is an extension of the political gains made by the religious right in the U.S. I also believe that this is part of an international cabal, orchestrated by the U.S., to Christianize and “capitalize” as much of the world as possible — countries that are or can be strategically useful to the U.S. (Note that the genocide in Sudan and the catastrophic AIDS epidemic in Africa are being shamelessly ignored by the U.S.).
Virtually every jetliner that touches down in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa is full of “missionaries,” each claiming to be building medical and dental clinics, to repair a church or to buy coffee from Honduran growers “at higher than market price” just to be generous.... Could it be that the religious message they bring is a Trojan Horse fueled by political objectives?
It may be useful to remind Hondurans; now that “pastores” are throwing their hats in the political ring that religion is divisive and exclusionary, despotic, self-absorbed and intolerant. It belongs at home and in houses of worship. It has no business in the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government, least of all in the shaping of an all-purpose collective psyche.
ruled from the pulpit, as the “pastores” would have it, soon loses