Friday, March 18, 2011

Every nation ridicules other nations, and all are right.

 - Arthur Schopenhauer

The abundance of cell phones and Blackberrys was one of the first things in Honduras that countered my preconceived ideas of what this place would be like. This place has suprised me in lots of ways so far, and I want to share some of these with you below.

So back to the cell phones.  Yes, there is a lot of poverty here, and cell phones are luxuries not everyone can afford, but for those who can, cell-phones are as ubiquitous here as anywhere in Canada.  At my workplace, most people have two of them going off simultaneously with texts, calls, and received emails.  In fact, cellphones in someways are even more a part of daily life here. Landlines are hard to come by, and cell phones and cell phone plans are relatively cheap.  I guess the communications companies decided that they had already invested in all the infrastructure needed for this technology, so why not make them affordable to a huge market instead of pricing themselves out to just a small one.  I'm sure it's still profitable at $20 per month instead of the Canadian $100.  It's not uncommon, to be in a formal meeting, and have the PRESENTER answer his/her phone here.  It's all a bit much sometimes, but I'm really glad that I too can affordably call home to Canada and around Honduras to my new friends.  It's a safety device as much as it is a "ET call home" medium.

Disappointingly, if not surprisingly, all the 99 cent junk from China is available here too, and in great abundance.  Poor quality items for every possible category of consumerism you can think of, found even in the most remote villages, sold by street vendors and stores alike.  My neighbour remarked that China has figured out every country's "needs" and produced items for them.  There's a special lunch container here that holds all the typical Honduran lunch food items in just the right configuration to keep the hot soup away from the crispy cold cabbage, all interlocking into one big, cheap, plastic thermos that surely leaches toxic chemicals into the beans everytime it's reheated in the microwave (also made in China).  There are some products and artensan items made in Honduras, but you have to really seek them out.  Given that my first real travel experience was in Cuba, where generally, the variety of goods available is still quite limited, I was a little shocked that just about everything I could want is somewhere in this country.  This includes Nutella and Ferrero Roche chocolates, by the way, and I have taken full advantage of their availability.

It's my impression that gender equity, though evidently an important topic for the Honduran people, has never really been on the radar until recently.  Honduran culture is known for its machismo.  This is played out by dominance in public life, land ownership, heading households, earning capacity, education opportunity...etc of the men.  Again, not all that different from Canada, except for the magnitude of differences in opportunity and independence and self-determination between men and women here. However, Honduras also receives a lot of funding for development from Canada, the US and European countries.  Gender equity themes are integrated into all of the funding programs that I have seen so far.  That means, that suddenly, gender has become important in Honduras, at least in so much as it's a string attached to receiving (or not) more funding.  "Demonstrate to us how you involved the women in the development of this project, and we'll give you $10."  It's a start.  A lot of the gender initiatives to this point are token in my eyes, but more expertise in this area is being developed.  There's a realization that just because one woman showed up to the meeting and didn't actually have to take the minutes herself, doesn't mean that the programs are enjoying full (or even partial) gender equity.  On that note, I am happy to report that my Spanish skills are too crappy for them to even consider asking me to take the minutes at meetings.  This makes the frustration of not understanding everything that much more bareable enjoyable. <evil grin>.

All this is to say, that thanks to the wonders and horrors of globilization, this place is more like home than you might think.  Of course it differs in some really marked ways, but there's definitely more similarities than I expected.

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