Saturday, February 18, 2012

Is This Really Happening?

This morning, like every Saturday, Daniel and I began the day by assessing the sky to determine if we could wash clothes and have enough sunlight to hang them to dry.  All looked clear, so we did.

After hanging the first load, Daniel noticed a really dark "cloud" in the sky, and we prayed it wouldn't rain before our laundry finished drying.

Later, on our way home from the grocery store, we noticed a billowing cloud of black smoke rising up from somewhere near centro.  Arriving home, I asked our guardener*  what was on fire.  He told me that two markets in Comayaguela, a poor area of downtown Tegus, were on fire.

He said that the fire was started by gangs, angry because the people in the market wouldn't pay the war tax (impuestos de guerra), a form of extortion the gangs use by requiring taxi and bus drivers, and small businesses, to pay them a regular amount of money in exchange for "protection" or the use of "their" streets or neighborhoods. 

Here's a concise summary I found from the China Post (?)

"The transformation of Maras [gangs] into more organized crime syndicates has been central to Honduras' demise.
As well as trafficking drugs, many gangs bleed businesses by levying a so-called “war tax” or extortion payments in the territories they control.
Many taxi drivers are forced to pay criminals about US$30 a week, small shops about US$50. Most Hondurans earn less than the official minimum wage of about US$300 a month. War taxes became widespread in 2008 and have since mushroomed to endemic levels.
“The Maras tax almost every taxi and bus in Honduras' major cities,” says Congress' vice president, Marvin Ponce, who sits on the security committee. “If you add it all up, you can see that it is a multimillion-dollar business.”"

I have to say, though, that there is no official word about whether or not this fire is gang related.  (But then again, with so much corruption in high places, would the truth ever really come out?)  I was reading citizen comments on the Honduran newspaper's website, and many of them are ranting about lax government policies and poor safety standards as the cause of the fires.  But whatever the case may be, this is just too much.  Demasiado

*guardener (noun) The name I gave to someone who watches your house while also trimming bushes or grass, among other odd jobs.

(We had one of these when I lived up near the school, and we have one again where I currently live.  It's basically just a live body to be at your house when you're not... usually for Sunday mornings.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Prison Tragedy

Have you heard about it on the news?
CNN shows the bodies in bags.
La Tribuna bares all.  

A prison in Comayagua, a couple of hours from Tegus, was set on fire Tuesday night.  The death toll is 382, I believe.
The guard with the keys "couldn't be found".    I hate to say it but--typical.  That's what happens here.  No one is really in charge.

Here's an article that you can read if you aren't my mom (no use in worrying, Mom!)   :   Prison Fire
Don't worry, it's from the NY Times; the pictures are mellow (Unlike the huge newspaper images I saw from my bus window this morning, graphically showing a pile of charred bodies.)

I'm reading a book about hell right now, and it's all I could think of this morning looking at the horrific newspaper photos.   The book is very thought provoking. You should read it.  But, yea... I was reading about everlasting fire and destruction and woke up to those pictures.  Maybe a point was made.

Mark 9 says that hell is an unquenchable fire.

 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where
   “‘the worms that eat them do not die,
   and the fire is not quenched.’

I can't think of a worse way to die than to be trapped, and on fire.  But I can't even imagine a worse way to spend eternity.  Can you?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cancelled Weekend Plans Update

No Spelling Bee today (see previous post).  Here's what I ended up doing with my free time.  

Daniel and I took a little day trip to el centro, a part of town we used to frequent in our dating days.  Now that I don't need to pass through centro in order to see him, we rarely go.  
However, there is a great craft supply store there (again, see previous post). . . and so the idea struck.  We stretched it into an afternoon--lunch, a visit to the surprisingly great museum that I'm surprised is here, some pants shopping for the hubby, and craft stuff for yours truly. 
I used to try and go to the museum in centro as often as they changed exhibits.  They had a Picasso exhibit about a year ago, and they also host a European film festival every year (but I missed it last year... or maybe it didn't happen... ?)  Well, this month it's a Salvador Dali exhibit of his illustrations of Dante's Inferno.  There was an illustration for each Canto. Here's one of my favorites.  

At my craft-store-of-joy I purchased lots of felt (have I mentioned that I'm going to make a stuffed felt owl for each of my students for the end of the year?), and some cardstock to make my valentine's gift for the kiddos.  If you don't understand the owl frenzy, let me just say that it has to do with the owl I made for Twana's niece (see prior post), which the kids just loved.  My second stuffed owl hangs out in the classroom with us. They like owls.   So do I. 
VDay present for my loves. 

Hey, by the way...Can you name, in less than 10 seconds, the northwestern four corners state?  How about finish lines of civil war poetry?  Do you know much about the missouri river? Or which president was in office for the Louisiana Purchase? Well, some impressive Honduran middle schoolers can answer those questions and much more!  Yesterday classes were canceled because our school was hosting the Knowledge Bowl, a two-day academic event in which groups of students from schools from all over the country came to compete in 30 minute-ish rounds of questions.  All teachers had to help out.  My job was a reader.  It was stressful... I had to make sure to read slowly, clearly, and follow the specified order of "toss up" versus "bonus" questions, and judge weather students' answers matched the given answer or not.  But, over all, it was pretty darn fun.  And yea, I'm seriously impressed by what these kids know.  It makes me wonder how I have ever learned, and lost, so much information!  

Spelling Bee Disorganization (or, Cancelled Weekend Plans)

This year I told my friend, Stacy, who is heading up the spelling bee at our school this year, that I would help coach the spellers.  In part, I signed up because I felt guilty about not doing Challenge Club this year, and I wanted to be helping out after school in some way.  
The way Spelling Bee works here is this: first, each grade level does an in-class spelling bee; then, all the class winners from each grade level compete and are narrowed down to the top-three spellers of each grade.  In theory, speller #1 competes at the first competition, speller #2 at the second, and #3 is the backup.  However, we were never given any word about the secondary competition this year, so it looks like spellers 2 and 3 are out of luck. 
I found this picture here in an article about Indian kids
being good spellers.  But don't they kind of resemble
my students a little bit?  :)
Anyways, we went to the Discovery School (a bilingual, not-Christian school here in Tegus.) yesterday to a meeting for coaches. The idea was to determine who would help out in which way (as a word caller, a scribe, a judge, etc.)  
It turned out that our middle-man from our school must have forgotten to return some paperwork, because Stacy, Dan (another coach), and I weren't in the bag of names being "raffled" for helping positions. Since they had enough helpers, many of whom had traveled from across the country to be there and needed to participate in order to validate their long trip, we three were left job-less.  And a little bit resentful of attending a meeting from 4:00-6:00 on a Friday afternoon that ended up not pertaining to us at all. (In addition to pulling names to assign helpers, the meeting consisted of the leaders of the school trying to make motions to change the rules of the game the day before the event.  T.I.H.  This is Honduras.)
So (not-all-that-unfortunately), it is now Saturday and, instead of being stuck inside a room watching kids spell, I'm about to leave and buy some of my favorite things:  craft supplies.  I think I am going to make these for my students for Valentine's Day: 

Happy Saturday!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Foot on the Bus

I'm choosing to write about The Foot on the Bus.

Not about how many times I've tried to contact the U.S. Embassy without success.

Not about the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad (and yet slightly redeemed) week that I had when February began.

No. If I decided to give in and vent and rant and rave, I would release the seething rage I feel every time that snooty operator at the embassy answers the phone and gives me the her cold, curt replies.
I imagine she looks something like this.

Instead, I'm writing about something I've wanted to tell you about for a while now, and that is--there is a foot on my school bus.  Yea... a foot.

Believe me, the curiosity/suspense/confusion you're probably experiencing right now as you ask yourself, "what in the world is she talking about," is surely something like the feelings I felt during the several months I spent riding Bus 8 with Don Marcos (the driver) and Doña It's-been-too-long-for-me-to-ask-you-you're-name-now (the nanny) trying to imagine a reason or a purpose behind The Foot that sits in front of me every day.

Ever since the first day of school, there has been an artificial foot lying on the floor next to the driver's seat.  It's a left foot, and very realistic. Veins and all.  There's even a suspicious red coloration near the cut-off part that would be attached to the calf.  It's got a slight Morton's toe (which I used to call surfer toe, but I googled it and now know right terminology).  It's flesh colored... but more of of gringo color than that of a latino.

At first I didn't think much about The Foot.  It brought up images of those prank feet that you sometimes see hanging out of some jokester's trunk.  No one seemed to pay it any mind--not even the children (which is odd, don't you think?).
But then, I'm not sure when, I really started to believe that that Foot meant something.  I mean, why else would it ALWAYS be there, when other seemingly random items get tossed daily.  Could it be someone's prosthetic foot?

When that thought occurred to me, I tried a few times to get a good look at Don Marcos' left foot.  It wasn't easy from my seat behind the driver, so I'd try to stealthily turn around and sneak a peak while exiting the bus.  His foot seemed fine...  not like a fake-footless stump might look in a shoe.   Then there was one day when I saw him out of the bus, walking around the school, and that was when I was pretty convinced that his left foot was real.

So my suspicion rested, for one day, on the Doña.  Had I ever seen her feet?  I'd never paid attention.   Well, the next day she wore sandals, and two perfectly good feet stuck out of them. Wrong again.

And so, just last week, when I saw that the Doña was in a happier mood than usual, and Don Marcos wasn't paying attention, I just asked it; "Doña, do you know anything about that Foot?"

And after all the wondering and assuming, all the stories and possibilities that ran through my mind on my many tedious trips to and from school, the bus foot mystery came to a boring resolution--it was a gift from his father... a recuerdo.

Now I guess the mystery that remains is... why would his father give him a fake foot?
Here's the proof... I snuck a cellphone picture the other day while
pretending to listen to music.  WHY he chose to buckle up the foot
instead of his seatbelt that day is unknown... but it was a helpful
position to photograph.

Snooty Operator photo is from