Friday, February 29, 2008

Unlikely Matches (Pt 2)

If you've been keeping up with my blog, you'll soon realize that this post is mainly about my first entry into Honduras, which is obviously out of order, but I needed more time to reflect, plus I had an "Unlikely Matches Pt 1," so naturally I figured a Pt 2 was in order. Also if you've been keeping up with my blog, probably the last person you'd expect me to stay with is a white Christian missionary but hey, stranger things have happened. Admittedly not my first choice, I hesitantly sent Pamela a couchsurfing message with the fear that our religious perspectives would clash, since I've been prepped in the scholarly perception that missionary work was equivalent to colonization. In retrospect, I was very fortunate she was the only one to respond to my request. Apart from the generous hospitality I received, I also got the chance to reanalyze my beliefs, question and requestion my thinking.

Pamela runs a non-profit program that essentially allows local residents to achieve their high school equivalencies. Each night people come after their long days of being a taxi driver, tortilla vendor, or whatever commonly low waged employment they might hold, to learn basics in arithmetic and grammar. A 5th grade equivalency in reading, which is what some are working towards, honestly does not drastically change their financial situation, but it still means something. It reminds you how much those things you sometimes take for granted are actually worth. Now automatically you may think this was an alturistic case of "white saviorism", but to my surprise, Pamela had a consciousness about race, stating that she made sure she was always staying in the backdrop, ensuring it was mainly Hondurans helping Hondurans.

Perhaps it was my own preconceived notions that allowed me to be so astonished by her words, but my assumptions have been rooted in experiences with previous, mostly white, "human rights activists". The irony of this whole situation is that most of them would consider Pamela a neo-colonist due to her strong religious beliefs, yet she had more humanity than most of them by believing in the capabilities of local leadership. As long as religion no longer professes the racist belief that people of impoversihed surroundings to be less human, say like monkeys, then perhaps people can find some hope in it without any severe consequences. Sometimes I think in our search to understand these complex structures of exploitation, we become arrogant in our so called "knowledge". We overlook the fact that people simply want to better their lives, in whatever capacity, and forget that like those we condemn, we are rarely in a position to judge.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Saturday Sparring Sessions

So I think I got tricked into another exhibition match this last weekend. For the past two weeks, I've been training with the local boxing team, well really, what seems to be the only boxing team in the country. I was informed that Saturdays were for sparring, but was immediately confused when they had us put on the traditional red and blue uniforms. Maybe their sparring sessions were just really formal I thought. No. That theory went out the window when they started giving introductions and announcing winners to the preceeding bouts.

I ended up "sparring" with Federico, a guy who is inconveniently nicknamed "Chino", so everytime someone yelled anything in the ring addressing that moniker, I had no idea who they were talking to. Holding a MFA in sculpture, Federico professes himself to be "the only civilized one here", reminding me you can be of any color and still be pompous, although the five years he spent in London could have attributed to it as well. But when I asked him "why he was boxing", he simply said "because I need it," quite possibly the shortest, yet most complex answer one could give. Regardless of what you think of the fistic trade, boxing means something to people, it gives them hope.

Like twenty-one year old Juan Carlos, aka "Culicho", who with almost an apologetic tone was the first person to tell me he didn't like where he lived. According to him, the abundance of gangs, robberies, and murders eliminated any prospects of opportunity and made him simply wish that "he lived on the other side." Unable to afford school and residing in a scarce job market, boxing is all he does. I'd like to believe that the sweet science is what makes him the nice guy that literally jumps at any opportunity to help me, whether it is finding me a taxi or keeping me dry when it rains. He throws his hooks wide and needs to work his stance, but he shows up everday, working to one day make it pro which he says he thinks about "siempre" (always).

Or like the full-time car painter, Jorge, who honestly fights more with his heart than his head, but is one hell of a body puncher. At nineteen years old, his dreams of becoming a Central American Champion wakes him up to run at 4AM every morning, right before his 9 hr workshift. For him he says its not about the money, he just loves the sport. For him its about the ability for his mother to one day watch a championship fight and say with pride, "Hey, that's my son". He says you can make money in other ways, through work, through studies, but he wants to live his dream, and for him, boxing is it.

Both these pugs have no idea on how they plan to achieve this as Honduras has no professional ranks, in fact boxing here is on life support. But they come anyways because they still hope that the highly unlikely will happen or maybe they know what the sport is doing for them, regardless if they make it pro or not. Maybe they just need the carrot at the end of the stick to justify sacrificing 3 hrs a day, six days a week.

Far from uncivilized I thought, as I was sticking left jabs and pummeling right hand body shots. "Chino" and I fought to a four round draw, an addtional round added, in what I believe he requested to redeem himself from a knockdown I scored at the end of the third. It was due to him being off balance but he went down on a punch, so a knockdown either way. I know it goes against my ethos of being a visitor, but after he had indirectly called the rest of the boxers "uncivilized", I didn't feel that bad. But Federico still made a point. People need boxing. Not to quench a blood thisty attraction to violence or other self-destructive tendencies, but quite the contrary. They come to exercise their desire to get away from them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Off the Beaten Path

If you really want to "get off the beaten path", come to the capital cities. So many travelers want to get away from the very touristy spots, but most people don’t realize that the small rustic villages or coffee fincas, are just as much another tourist attraction because travel agencies recognize that exact same emotion of not wanting to be a tourist; they just package it in a way so it doesn’t seem like a tour.

For the past week I’ve been staying in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. You’ll find all the amenities of plush five star hotels, fast food restaurants, and megamalls, but you’ll hardly come across another traveler. Because of the low volume of tourists, hotels are considerably more expensive and in order to be relatively close to a “backpacker’s budget,” I was staying in a place that intermittenly had water, where I bathed myself with a tub of water and a bucket. However, looking back on it I was quite fortunate. Water shortages here are frequent, making water a privileged commodity and there I was with a garbage can full of it. It also makes you realize how little water you actually need to clean yourself.

Yesterday I found out my former hotel was notorious for its late night sexual solicitations. I guess that would explain the unannounced 2AM instrusion I receieved, followed by another one at 3AM, by a fellow who proceeded to offer me a blowjob in exchange for a room. It was then I decided I had enough of that place. Yet actually my entire neighborhood could be considered a red-light district as my current hotel, located across the street, is also known for prostitution. Despite the constant army marches of ants and the occasional cockroach, my new room is a huge improvement. It did, however, cost an additional 20 Lempiras, which is equivalent to a little more than $1 USD, but I’ve been trying to live in accordance locally and that 20 Lempiras could buy you a meal, or for me, my daily licuado and rosillas.

The owners of Hotel Mariposa are Chinese, as I also find the red-light district to simultaenously be the Chinatown of Tegucigalpa. Therefore to most local Hondurans I don’t stick out; most assume I’m another immigrant. But to the local Chinese, they know I’m not from around here. I find myself isolated in a lonely cultural category, kind of how it is for most Asian Americans in the United States. By trying to bridge that gap, I seem to be using my Mandarin almost more than my Spanish. Yesterday, I was tutoring English to the young daughter in Spanish and explaining it to the mother in Chinese. It earned me a free wonton soup dinner for the night. Makes me grateful for all my parents gave me.

True, the capital city doesn’t have the exotic beaches or underwater excursions that Honduras is known for, but there’s life here; the day-to-day struggle to make it and that, has always been so much more real to me.

Hotel Tegucigalpa

(Toilet that wouldn't flush)

(My tub and bucket for showers)

Hotel Mariposa

(My roommates)

(My room, more than enough)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Unlikely Matches (Pt 1)

Crossing the Guatemalan border into Honduras while listening to "100 Top Country Hits" is like eating chocolate covered mango ice cream sprinkled with peanuts. You wouldn't think the two go together but they complement each other quite pleasantly...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Well. It's Been Emotional.

Within the course of the past seven weeks, my host family has put me through a rollercoaster of nearly every possible human emotion, from joy to sadness to frustration. This whole experience has taken a lot out of me, but I’ve also received much more in return. Sometimes I would be confused as to why their personal affairs or quarrels would affect me, but during my stay, my friend Jessica introduced me to the concept of “traveling without consequences”; essentially the freedom that most travelers have to pick and choose what aspects of a country should affect their immediate reality, meaning we can absorb all its beautiful splendors and ignore its deep rooted problems, because humans are innately drawn to comfort.

I think I unknowingly waved that right as I have been personally invested in many of the on goings of this family. Of course I’ve always had the choice of shutting my door and drowning out my surroundings with literature or music. I also realize that ultimately my choice to be involved in their affairs has been just that, a choice. But I believe that I’ve still felt some of the pain endured here, both physically and mentally, more so than others. It’s just that I don’t feel it is right to choose our experiences when traveling rather than taking the place for what it is. It’s unjust to “travel without consequences” because in the end it doesn’t make us better people; it only conditions us to avoid the discomforting things that we can’t stomach in this world and in ourselves.

I’ve learned more about both in these seven weeks than I have in almost any college course either at home or abroad. And these moments haven’t been in the tranquility of a lake or at the peak of a volcano, but as my friend Carston said, it is in the little, often unnoticed moments that you share with others. Like the nights of “Jungle Speed” where all you thought about was grabbing a wooden stick when the symbols of two cards matched, or games of “Mexican Dominos,” where for the first time I didn’t wonder as to where its name came from but instead only cared about making sure the ends fit into a multiple of 5. But the most meaningful moments have been during my late-night “chevere” (hot-dog) runs with my host brother Sergio, whom after this experience, has been more of a brother to me than a host.

It’s interesting how the power of place can bring people together because had we met in the States, more than likely, we would not have gotten along. Being that he comes from the rather segregated mindset of Oklahoma, our opinions drastically differ on certain topics, such as race. But one thing that struck me was that he told me I was fortunate to be able to witness all these things, good and bad, because in the end, it would make me a better person. He told me not everyone gets the chance to witness things like the “trash incident”, and that is how ignorance is born; that you can’t blame people for not knowing certain things and behaving in accordance. Being that many of his family’s own personal struggles can be attributed to the ignorance of others, it made me wonder why he could forgive their thinking and I couldn’t.

I hope “bitterness” is one of the things I’ve left behind and that “patience” and “understanding” is something that I’ve gained. I hope I can find peace for myself because there are so many things I can’t make peace with. I’ve managed to find new things despite my familiarity to this place and I somehow come up with new stories to tell everyday. I’m saddened to be leaving behind those who gave me that knowledge, but I know its time to move on. I know I’ll pick up more things and leave others behind, perhaps for someone else to use on their own journey. I guess that’s exactly what traveling is. But sometimes I also feel as if I’ve been here for too long, my mind keeps nagging me to leave, but I figure it’s hard to come by the experiences that make you want to stay. It’s hard to come by those moments that you want to hold onto. Might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

(The infamous "chevere" brothers)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Best Things In Life Are Free

It’s amazing how wealthy some people can be, yet still have no manners. Heavyweight boxer Donovon “Razor” Ruddock once said to the legendary Mike Tyson, “There’s something you can’t buy and that’s class. You don’t got none of that.” Even the self and critically proclaimed “craziest boxer in the world” could teach these people some lessons in common courtesy.