Tegucigalpa ....Best Landing Ever!
After experiencing that crazy landing quickly followed by the eye roll and exaggerated sigh I received from the Honduran Customs agent when I told her I don’t speak Spanish, I knew this was going to be an interesting trip.
I arrived in Tegucigalpo on June 9 early in the day. The landing was incredible …definitely an adrenalin rush. The passengers applauded once the plane slowed down and headed to the gate. I wasn’t sure whether the applause came from relief that we survived one of the most dangerous landings in the world, or the exhilaration of simultaneously being tossed around and dropping out of the sky while taking quick turns to avoid hitting the mountains. After experiencing that crazy landing quickly followed by the eye roll and exaggerated sigh I received from the Honduran Customs agent when I told her I don’t speak Spanish, I knew this was going to be an interesting trip.
Tegucigalpa basically sits in the bottom of a canyon of sorts surrounded by mountains. Flying in you could easily think you're landing in Palm Springs. Houses built of adobe, wood scraps or peach-colored bricks cascade over hills almost like they have become part of the mountain. One of the more peaceful Central American capitals, apparently, it is also pretty much immune to earthquakes and volcanoes, so the architecture spans four centuries. Many of the older buildings have been preserved and others are crumbling remains of what once were beautiful and ornate structures. Poverty is evident everywhere you look. Despair and hopelessness surrounded by such majestic and scenic mountain ranges …it’s impossible to admire the beauty without seeing the pain and desperation experienced by many of the city’s residents.
I was in Tegucigalpa to train field staff and stayed in a fairly secure area close to the US Embassy and USAID’s headquarters my colleague and I termed “the compound.” The hotel was directly across a narrow cobblestone street from our field office and there were a couple restaurants and a sizable grocery store a block away. This was my first time on my own in a city where I know very little of the language, From the Spanish I have learned, I couldn’t help but think that if people spoke slowly enough I would have an easier time understanding (similar to my experience with French. After years of learning, I could easily read French but still had trouble understanding the spoken language.) But I wasn’t about to ask. I try to avoid being rude or pissing people off ...too much drama and, I have this problem with feeling really terrible when say or do things that upset people. I was fortunate enough to be able to go out with a couple USAID drivers during my time there, one of which spoke very little English. With the help of Google translate we were able to communicate. Even with my pathetic attempts at remembering some of the Spanish I know, he kept smiling and nodding and did his best to help me find what I was looking for. Many Tegucigalpans definitely give you points for trying and are gracious and patient in their willingness to help.
Tegucigalpa is a place unaffected by what someone thinks you want or expect. The people are naturally reserved which is understandable considering our current political climate and the negativity towards Central Americans which has been encouraged by our current administration. No one ever takes your order or even gives you a check until you ask for it. The double-barreled shotguns displayed by security guards sitting outside many of the local businesses took some getting used to as were the heavily armed military brought in to protect the U.S. Embassy and other businesses in the area from the ongoing demonstrations against President Hernandez, which had been building in recent weeks, over planned reforms that many fear will lead to the privatization of public health and education services. Just a week before I arrived, protestors torched an access gate to the U.S. Embassy. I am used to seeing police, secret service and other security personnel in uniforms armed, usually with smaller guns of course. I will say however, that the dudes wearing jeans and t-shirts holding shotguns sitting outside restaurants and guarding parking lots, were a little unnerving…evidence of the somewhat sheltered and privileged lives that pains me to admit we have in the US.
I did not get much time to take pictures …I know I will be back at some point in the next year so, hopefully I’ll get more chances. I am hoping to find the time to visit some art museums, old cathedrals, and national monuments to learn more about the city’s history and culture. From a distance I could see the Christ at "El Picacho" …a monument which stands on mountain near El Picacho, one of the highest peaks in northern Tegucigalpa. At night the statue is illuminated so it appears to glow like a bioluminescent sea creature lighting up the darkest depths of the ocean. I am not a religious person but I could see that the presence of the statue must give many who are struggling hope. I also know that a statue is not enough …there is so much more human beings all over the world can do to help reduce poverty all over the world …helping disadvantaged countries build their economies and provide aid to their citizens. I walked away from this trip not only grateful for the richness of my life but also a greater understanding of the positive impact the work I have chosen to be a part of has on the world. I remember writing an essay senior year of high school discussing what I wanted to do with my life ...my answer was simple, I said I wanted to help people. Here I am years later doing just that. Between my volunteer work with a local animal shelter and my chosen occupation, my desire to have a positive impact on the world in some way, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, has stayed with me throughout my life and will continue to be my guiding light me wherever I go or whatever I do.