Sunday, January 24, 2010

Book Club part 2 :)

Don't Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks From The Heart: The Story of Elvia Alvarado Don't Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks From The Heart: The Story of Elvia Alvarado by Medea Benjamin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I absolutely tore through this book due to its conversational style as an oral biography. While the themes and topics addressed are definitely worthy of additional thought and reflection, the language was like an IV instead of digesting a pill. That said, although this book was ¨easy¨ to read, it certainly doesn´t let the reader off the hook. Everyone kept asking me why it was called ¨Don´t be afraid, Gringo¨ when the story was clearly about some Honduran lady... and why should we be afraid of her? The last few pages of the book are a powerful call to action to readers in the US--to influence changes in US foreign policy and military intervention to help Hondurans more than any type of charity ever could... and don´t be afraid of your government, Gringo! Fear only inhibits action.

That aside, I was constantly comparing this book to the last book I read about Honduras... ¨Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras¨ Being that Don´t be Afraid (DBA) was published in the mid-late 80s, and the other book (WHDH) about 20 years later, certainly a lot has changed. For one thing, DBA mentioned that there really aren´t many oligarchic-style families in power running Honduras as there are in many other central american countries... Well, WHDH points out many of them and which maquiladoras and media outlets they own. Both book have similar arguments in that they say that delinquency, alcoholism, poverty, and violence aren´t the fault of the people... WHDH argues that more egalitarian economic deveopment is needed to provide jobs to all (the book definitely is more urban-industrially focused) and DBA argues that the same problems could be solved by giving campesinos enough land to farm that would actually feed their families. Elvia Alvarado argues that campesinos aren´t afraid of hard work--those who do have enough land to farm are too busy to waste time drinking!

There are lots of great messages in this book for organizers and activitists (don´t be afraid, pep talks, education and training is KEY, and don´t organize around projects--organize for the sake of organizing and let the projects develop organically), for people who want to know about women and machismo and Honduran culture in general (through the first few chapters about Elvia´s pre-organizing life), for those who want to know about really rural Honduras (while I´ve done lots of travelling here, I haven´t gone places with no roads, so largely I haven´t seen the ¨real¨ campesinos she Elvia is working to organize). It also is good for those who would like to see some analysis of how policy (both US and Hondurans) affects everyday people without the ¨filter¨ of academic language--coming straight from the people who are affected by it. While I was excited to read a book ¨by¨ Medea Benjamin, as I respect her activism and work with the peace group Code Pink, I was also thankful that she stepped back and let Elvia tell her own story.

I hope more people who are ¨on the ground¨ doing aid work and development work in other countries read this book and get some major insight into the people that they´re working with... and HOW they should work with them. An excellent read.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, January 11, 2010

Saying goodbye to an "old friend"... and helping out some new ones.

Today I gave away my little brown vinyl suitcase that I've had since I was five years old. This thing went on family trips to the beach at Lewes, Delaware with me... it went to Puerto Rico... Mexico... Honduras... pretty much everywhere. It has absolutely no modern features such as wheels, etc, but it was a nice little size and perfect for pretty much everything. My parents got me a new set of (bright RED!!) luggage for Christmas... Thanks Mom and Dad!!! Anyway, I no longer "need" my old friend the little brown suitcase.

Its new home is the same place where I donated some of my clothes before I came home for Christmas break. My friend Cecilia (another teacher at my school) volunteers at a home for HIV+ women and children, many of whom are orphans or whose parents can't afford to take care of them or meet their medical needs. The folks there don't have much, so it works out quite well to have them receive donations. Cecilia says that she usually takes over clothes in a suitcase and leaves the suitcase, so I was working within her little system without even knowing it! I hope I can visit someday and check out the place and meet the people there.

I was also inspired back in October 2009 when I visited Horizontes, an "orphanage" for boys in Comayagua. My friends Lovisa and Leigh Ann, with whom I traveled to the North Coast, work there and invited Elisa and me to visit. Once again, many of the boys there are not true orphans, but rather come from extremely large and extremely poor families who simply can't afford to feed them and take them to school on a regular basis. This is why I was rather confused when they told us that some of the "orphan" boys had "gone home" for Christmas to celebrate with their families. For others, however, it's Horizontes or life in the streets.

Here are some pics of the Horizontes boys and the facilities:

By the way, if you ever need any inspiration to give away your stuff, you should come visit Honduras and see how the average Honduran lives... or you can watch this show.
It's like a trainwreck... so awful but you can't tear your eyes away... :P Thanks to Susan (my ex-roomie, life coach, and declutterer extraordinnaire) for introducing it to me!!

Book Club

A while ago, my friend Elisa and I ordered several books on Honduran history, sociology, economics, etc, in order to understand our "new home" and I finally finished one of them!! Here is my review on Goodreads. Enjoy!

Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras by">Adrienne Pine

My rating:">4 of 5 starsAs someone who is currently living in Honduras, this book definitely confirmed a lot of things that I observe everyday, and also gave me some needed historical context/anthropological perspective on Honduras and its people. I must say that I have never formally studied anthropology before so some of the terms were confusing at first, but I found it to be a fascinating perspective on human behavior and the outside forces that lead to "embodied fear," etc.
The most relevant and fascinating chapter for me was the first one, on violence. This one, more than maquiladoras and alcohol, is the most relevant to me and the people that I know in Honduras. There are religiously-inspired bumper stickers on more than a few cars here that say "No mataras" (Thou shalt not kill). At first, I thought these stickers were laughable... "yeah, DUH!" As time went on and I realized how much of a problem (perceived or real) this is to everyday Hondurans who have lost family members to street violence and economically-motivated murders, I have started to have a slighty more somber reaction when I see the now.
I think the concept of embodied fear and resultant habitus made a lot of sense in the way that my roommates here in Honduras (who are Irani-Hondurans) behave and react to threats (real and perceived). They also would probably approve of the "mano dura"-style punishment policies and are currently calling on Pepe Lobo, the new president, to implement the death penalty to create "real consequences" for committing crimes. I often think their way of thinking is a little too harsh or overreacting, just as the author did occasionally when talking with people who approved of the "death squads" to rid the streets of gangs. And, like the author, I often get the response, "you would understand this if you lived here long enough to have seen and felt the same things we do."
After reading the book, I have become more sensitive to the subtle and not-so-subtle messages in media and through general conversations confirming the theme "Honduras is violent." The day I got back to Honduras after going home to the States for Christmas, a paperboy hawking papers on my bus read the headlines (which included gory pictures of a car crash on the front page, just as the author noted in her book). At one point he even said, after announcing an increase in gang-related crime in San Pedro Sula, "asi es Honduras, no?" That's Honduras for you, isn't it?" If you heard that every day of your life, you'd feel a little different about your homeland, wouldn't you?
Another thing from my observations down here that the book confirmed was the general Honduran inferiority complex... not only in relation to the United States, but also relative to other Central American countries (and especially Costa Rica). Unlike my brief travels in Bolivia, where being American was decidedly UNcool at times, American clothes, domestic products, etc are definitely considered status symbols and highly desired. The American flag really does appear everywhere to sell just about anything. "It must be better than Honduran goods..."
I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5 mostly because I felt that some of the arguments presented in the book were a bit of a stretch, and the fact that I would have preferred a stronger conclusion for each of the three "chapters." All in all, a fascinating and extremely helpful read.">View all my reviews >>