Pinatas at the wedding

 Back from a weekend bus trip to Santa Rosa de Copan, a town about 105 kilometres away - or three-and-a-half hours. The roads aren't great, but that's not the reason for the long journey. The Casasalo Express, despite the name, stops to pick up anybody who waves at the side of the road, and to let off anybody who wants to strike off into some hillside village.
Which is not a bad thing. The first stretch, from Copan Ruinas to La Entrada, is hilly and twisty, and a fast ride leaves me slightly queasy. The stops help.
The Express is a relatively comfortable and fast way to travel. The price is a little higher than the low-end local buses - $5 - but you don't end up with three people on a two-person bench.  And the speakers are pretty good. We had '80s rock on the way there, and a lot of Van Halen on the way back. 
Honduras doesn't get credit for its impressive scenery. Copan Ruinas is about 1,800 feet above sea level; Santa Rosa about 3,800 feet. The trip between the two takes you along the Copan River to La Entrada, a slightly druggy commercial town, and then climbing up through the hills, with stunning views at every turn. Big hills, or small mountains, with forests and cleared corn fields and dark green coffee plants under shade trees, broad valleys and houses and communities scattered sparsely across the background. 
The roadside is just as interesting - just outside La Entrada, there is about a kilometre of firework stands, fuego artificiales stacked up on shelves like books. Why there, and nowhere else? I don't know. Horses are tied up to graze roadside grass, and you get to peer into no end of tiny communities or individual homes, sometime a tin roof and mud bricks and a swept dirt yard. Every now and then a few people - often a family - are working, or feigning work on filling potholes, and holding out their hands for contributions from drivers. It's an unusual system of road maintenance.
It would have been more comfortable, but Jody had her accordion on her lap and I had a day pack with my computer. Our pack was up on the roof of the bus.
The accordion was along for the ride because we were going to the wedding party for Gaetane Carignan and Humberto Alvarado, and Gaetane - a musician herself - has asked Jody to bring it along.
It's a romantic story. Gaetane was a Cuso volunteer, an agriculture expert. She met Humberto, whose family farmed near Santa Rosa. Despite all the obvious barriers, they fell in love and were married a few months ago. This was the chance for both families and their friends to come together and celebrate. The Canadians introduced the custom of striking wine glasses to get the couple to kiss and brought a toque and mittens and Winnipeg Jets jersey. (Dauphin, Man., is their destination once the immigration process is complete.) The Hondurans adapted the tradition of pinatas, usually a birthday rite, for the wedding party. Jody played the accordion, and a great band covered old hits and had everyone dancing to She Loves You. (Gaetane picked the dinner music; I�d wager it�s the first Honduran wedding party soundtrack that included the Barenaked Ladies doing Lovers in Dangerous Time.)
it was our first real visit to Santa Rosa, which we had only passed through.
It's bigger than Copan Ruinas - about 48,000 people, while Copan Ruinas proper is about 8,000 (though there are many thousands more in the tiny communities scattered around in the hills). More stores, at least two traffic lights and more bustle - a guy drove over the side of my foot minutes after we arrived. The instinct to yell at him was quickly overcome by second thoughts about the murder rate.
Santa Rosa has a longer history as a Spanish-influenced commercial town - some three hundred years. The Spanish made it the centre of the Honduran tobacco industry in 1765. (The industry has shrunk and the fields around Copan Ruinas are dotted with abandoned tobacco-drying sheds. But it hasn�t disappeared; Honduras, prompted by the big tobacco corporations, has joined a WTO complaint over Australia�s plan to force cigarette companies to sell their product in generic white boxes.)
Santa Rosa feels more Spanish, or Mexican. A tidy grid of streets and avenues, a church with more statues and paintings - including a couple of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico�s favorite saint. The larger size means food vendors are in the square every day - in Copan Ruinas, they tend to show up on weekend evenings.
Best wishes, Humberto and Gaetane.


Footnote:
My partner asked her co-workers about the fireworks stands. Apparently, the vendors manufacture them along that stretch of road and sell in front of their homes. (You can see why they would likely have trouble finding locations for a small-scale fireworks factory.) At Christmas, they will set up temporary stalls in town. Home-made fireworks, Jesus and presents - should be an interesting Christmas in Copan.

A tale of two sewage treatment debates, in Canada and Honduras

La Prensa
I've been following two sewage treatment debates this week, in Victoria, where I used to live, and San Pedro Sula, about three hours from our home in Copan Ruinas.
There are unhappy people in both cities.
I'm convinced B.C.'s capital region needs to treat its sewage. The 2006 scientific panel report on the issue was disappointing for its lack of precision, but it found seabed contamination at the waste outfalls had been documented, sewage plumes that currently rise to the surface are health risks and claims that the waste proves an environmental threat can't be scientifically refuted. "Prudent public policy" would see work on treatment begin, it concluded. (There has been lots of debate about the report; read it for yourself here.)
But the need is a heck of a lot more pressing in San Pedro Sula, Hondura's commercial centre with some 1.3 million people (and amazing murder rate). Sewage and waste just gets dumped, mostly in two rivers that flow into the Caribbean. That's bad news for the people living downstream, including some 165,000 in Puerto Cortes.
La Prensa has been writing about the troubled sewage treatment project this week. It started in 2000, when the city signed a deal with an Italian consortium to upgrade the water system and create a sewage treatment system. In return, the company would get operating rights for 30 years and recover its costs and make a profit by charging users.
Which makes the capital region's project, with up to two-thirds of the costs covered by the provincial and federal governments, look like a pretty good deal.
In a poor country, there is little money for infrastructure. Honduras is on a tight debt limit imposed by the IMF in return for setting up a line of credit. Borrowing is out of the question.
The plan could have worked, maybe. Water service has apparently improved.
Except for the problems with sewage treatment. The schedule called for the first stage to done in 2007, and the next in 2010. That would give the company 23 years to make its money by charging customers before its 30-year concession ran out.
But the city couldn't find the three sites needed for treatment plants. (Sound familiar, Victorians?) There were other snags, and, as things stand, completion won't happen before 2018.
That leaves just 13 years for the company to make its money, and rates would, as a result have to be 70 per cent higher than projected. The median income in San Pedro Sula is about $450 a month; any extra costs are a problem.
And at the same time, cost estimates have climbed from $70 million to $180 million, also meaning higher rates. (A development that should make CRD residents nervous, since provincial and federal contributions are capped - any problems or unexpected costs will be picked up by residents.)
So what happens, beyond political finger-pointing? Who knows. Some politicians want a search for international donors. That happened in Tegucigalpa, the capital, where the European Union funded a sewage plant and an Italian group got the contract.
Meanwhile, the sewage keeps flowing. And, as in Victoria, the federal environment department has given the city until 2013 to fix things, which is not going to happen.
Meanwhile, back in B.C., Green party leader Jane Sterk has weighed in with an interesting oped piece in the Times Colonist. Sterk says sewage treatment should be postponed - not cancelled - until the region the fixes the failing storm water system, which would reduce the scale of treatment. Water conservation should be a priority, again to cut he treatment needed. The delay, she adds, would allow better technology to reduce the environmental and physical footprint of the treatment plants and and more resource recovery as part of the process.
It's a credible argument, but the process is likely too far advanced - and federal and provincial governments too committed - for the project to be derailed now.
And as San Pedro Sula has learned, the longer you delay, the more these things cost.

Riding the train of death from Honduras


Every couple of days, a plane carrying discouraged Hondurans lands in San Pedro Sula or Tegucigalpa. 
They aren�t business travellers, or returning tourists. They�re deportees, caught living illegally in the United States, or trying to cross the border.
It�s the only time in their lives most will be on a plane.
And it�s an incredible contrast to their travels on their outbound journey - walking, hopping a Mexican freight train called �La Bestia,� risking life and savings on a 3,100-kilometre overland odyssey through Guatemala and Mexico.
The numbers are staggering. So far this year, about 17,800 Hondurans have been deported by air from the U.S. - 660 a week. Another 15,700 have been sent back by bus from Mexico. More than a thousand people, every week who have travelled a huge distance and braved terrors for a better life.
No one knows how many more Hondurans make it across the border, but the U.S. government estimates one million are living there, 60 per cent of them �undocumented.� Most people I�ve talked to have a relative in the U.S., or recently returned.
The numbers, taken together, show a great migration - perhaps 275,000 a people leaving a year for a chance to make some money in the U.S.
It�s different from previous waves of immigrants to North America.
The border is supposedly closed and the migrants are illegal. They can be deported anytime, which makes them much less likely to put down roots. A few take children, but the journey is so dangerous most leave families here, and plan to return when they have made enough money.
Predators rape, rob and kill migrants, or kidnap them and demand ransoms from their families - typically $300 to $500. Mexico's National Commission for Human Rights reports 11,000 immigrants were kidnapped in 2010.
People die in the desert, or fall from the trains, where they cling to the roof and between cars. (Authorities have decided it�s easier to let desperate migrants ride the Beast and other trains than deal with thousands of them trying to walk to the U.S.)
Some pay coyotes to help with the journey - some $2,000 just for the final stage across the U.S.-border, often with money borrowed at high interest rates.
It�s dangerous and desperate. But it�s just part of life here for many Hondurans.
Many make the journey, work in construction or restaurants in the U.S., and then return to Hondurans, at least for a family visit. Though that means another dangerous trek northward if they choose to try to make it back to North America.
Life would be even tougher here without the migrants. They sent $240 million a month back to their families in Honduras in the first six months of this year. That�s 17 per cent of GDP - more than the contribution from any industry, six times as much as the banana exports.
But nothing comes without a price. People have to choose. Stay with your family, in poverty, or cut ties with them for two or five or 10 years, risk your life, and send money home. 
U.S. anthropologist Daniel Reichman wrote The Broken Village, a look at a small coffee community in Honduras. He noted the stresses as people balance the importance of family with the chance to make money in the U.S., and the jealousies when one family�s �ambici�n� - not seen as a positive attribute here - provides a flashy house or new car. 
And then the inevitable cases when someone fails to make good in the U.S., or turns his back on those life behind.
Reichman notes another aspect of all this. Governments and corporations have pushed free trade for goods and capital, eliminating borders. But for people - workers and families - there is no such freedom to move from country country.
Canada signed a free trade agreement with Honduras last year, but immigrating is still almost impossible for Hondurans. (Although La Prensa reported last month that some 25,000 Hondurans are living �el sue�o canadiense� - the Canadian dream. About 15,000 of them have legal resident status; most of the rest are working on it.)
I don�t know what it all means. I am struck by the contrasts. 
My grandparents packed up and headed to Canada to find better lives. It was brave, but they were welcomed and didn�t risk their lives. We�ve turned into a much meaner, more fearful country.
Then there is the contrast between some 250,000 people looking for a better life, and Canadian hysteria over a few hundred Chinese migrants travelling in rusty boats, posing absolutely no real risks.
And I�m troubled on another level.
For a Cold War kid, there is something familiar in the desperate risks Hondurans are willing to take to get to the U.S. It evokes those grim images of East Germans tangled in barbed wire, shot dead as they tried to scale the Berlin Wall.
And who is condemning the desperate to death today?

And now, the hokey pokey, from Honduras

My partner, Jody Paterson, has been helping out the local orphanage/foster home, a fairly grim place. I have been doing a little too, mostly helping with occasional swimming expeditions, which I wrote about here.
Jody wrote about the orphanage here, which prompted B.C.'s most consistently interesting blogger, The Gazetteer, to request a video of the kids doing the hokey pokey, one of the cross-cultural elements Jody has brought to the place.
And here it is.


And, should you be in a position to help out, check the fundraising page she has set up here.

(And note the fine cinematography.)



What Honduras needs most


(Reposted, because I accidentally deleted the first version.)

It's easy to see what's wrong in Honduras. It's hard to figure out what to do about it.
I spent the last two days in a "taller," the Spanish term for workshop, looking at development priorities for Honduras.
There are an endless number of grim stats. 
Want to worry about the environment? Between 1990 and 2008, Honduras lost 33.2 per cent of its forest land. Only six countries in the world, all in Africa, had greater deforestation. 
Poverty? The World Bank says 65 per cent of the population live in poverty, and 18 per cent in extreme poverty. In the nearby centre of Santa Rosa de Copan, 56 per cent of the households report income of less than $50 a month. Even for subsistence farmers, that's poor. 
Inequality? Based on the income gap between the top 20 per cent and the poorest 20 per cent, Honduras had the third greatest inequality in the world, behind Namibia and Angola.
Honduras ranked 129th of 164 countries on Transparency International�s 2011 Corruption Perception Index. The teen birth rate is 26 per cent higher than the Latin America/Caribbean average.
And on and on.
The workshop brought together some Cuso staff, volunteers and people from the partner organizations they work with in the country. You can�t do much in a day-and-a-half, but it was a chance to start gathering perspectives on where the need is greatest, Cuso�s role and future directions.
That�s ultimately complex. Cuso International has set five priority themes, and in Honduras is attempting to focus on two of them - secure livelihoods and natural resource management, and citizen participation and governance. But the partner organizations have their priorities. And they get funding from a wide range of international sources, and the funders have their own ideas on the most important areas of work. 
There are obvious tensions. If you�re a Honduran development organization working in rural communities, you�re going to feel a great pressure to look for quick ways to bring small - but important - improvements for families and communities. Help a family begin to grow a couple of crops besides corn and beans and they can get a few dollars more in annual income, which means less hunger.
But a few dollars more might not mean that the children go to school, so the basic problems of people with limited skills, lousy land (or none) and no path to a better life continue for another generation.
And programs to improve incomes in their communities don�t develop people�s knowledge of their rights and potential political and community power, or how to exercise them. The political system doesn�t work for people here; government scarcely works at all. Leaving those issues aside, many communities could do more collectively on their own.
It�s not all a question of hard choices. Some organizations are working on both things at once, offering tiny loans for women to start micro-businesses while helping poor families to get title to the little patch of land they farm. 
In the cities, as soon as the smallest construction project starts, even a house being built by three workers, a woman sets up a food stand on the street to sell them lunch. An aid worker said they surveyed the women to see what would help them. One said she bought the worst fruit at the market each night to make liquados - fruit smoothies popular here - but had to make them one at a time by hand. Customers got tired of waiting so she lost business. A $30 loan to buy a blender would give her and her family a better future.
Ultimately there will be hard choices. (And not just about programs in one country - Honduras or Guatemala? Central America or Africa (or Canadian reserves)?)
I don�t know enough about Honduras or development work or anything to have firm views. In fact, there were moments in the workshop when my Spanish skills left me unsure what the heck we were talking about.
But I�m struck by the vast numbers of little kids in Copan Ruinas, and birth rates are even higher in rural areas. About 30 per cent of the population is under 10. (In B.C., it�s 9.8 per cent.)
Maybe the driving theme should be on changing the future for those children, whether by building more capable families, improving education, boosting family incomes or teaching them about rights, political power and community organizing.

The bizarre cult of granite countertops

What is it with granite countertops? I thought I had left them behind in Canada, slowly leaking radon gas into all those updated kitchens, to be blamed in future for a cancer epidemic.
And often quite ugly.
But in La Prensa this week there was an ad for Las Colinas Residencial, a little housing development outside San Pedro Sula. And the selling features included "cocino con mueble de granito."
These are tiny houses, crammed onto small lots. The two-bedroom houses are 675 square feet; the big four-bedroom, two-storey models are 1,130 square feet.  Two colours of paint, PVC windows, 10 per cent down and payments as low as $257 a month, even at 10 per cent interest rates. (Interest rates are remarkably high here, a big drag on the economy. The problem, a business guy said, is that people just don't feel an obligation to repay loans. I got the impression he didn't.)
But the houses still had granite countertops.
A cultural anthropologist could probably do a doctorate on the allure of granite countertops. They can be nice, I'm sure, cool and smooth. But how did they become totemic, a necessary feature in every remodelled kitchen or condo development in Canada and Honduras?
I've never actually had a granite countertop. In the first house I co-owned, we replaced the bad formica with better fake wood-strip formica, one of the few home handyman projects I've done that has worked out. We painted the cabinets white and added red plastic knobs from Ikea and stuck a portable dishwasher into a space under the counter. Presto, a kitchen reno.
In our place here, which rents for about $325, the counters are tile, and not all that well done. But they serve.
But many Hondurans, like Canadians, apparently want granite. Maybe they plan on some serious baking, and need a cool surface to roll out their brioche dough.

Christy Clark three times as popular as President Lobo

OK, Christy Clark's approval rating in the latest Angus Reid poll is worrying for Liberals. Only 28 per cent of British Columbians approve of the job she's doing, compared with 45 per cent approval for Adrian Dix. Conservative leader John Cummins is tied with Clark.
And 55 per cent of British Columbians say their opinions of Clark have worsened in the last three months, despite the party and government's efforts to win back lost suport.
It could be worse. La Prensa published a Gallup poll yesterday that found eight per cent of Hondurans approve of the job President Porfiro Lobo is doing. Only twelve per cent of Hondurans said they think the country is generally going in the right direction.
It's pretty tough to get into single digits. People here tend to be partisans of one of the two main parties, so even the people who voted for the president are giving him failing grades.
Though I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. People often say they support the Liberal or National party. But they rarely seem to think it would actually make much difference for the country if their side wins.
There's one big difference in the positions of Lobo and Clark. Presidents can only serve one term under the Honduran constitution. The election isn't until next fall, but the elaborate primary process is underway and it's difficult for a president to get anything done in the last 18 months of his term. (No women presidents yet. The left/reform Libre party has nominated Xiomara Castro Zelaya, wife of the Maunel Zelaya, the president deposed in the 2009 coup, but she is a long shot.)
By the end of the process, his party - National - will have a new leader for the election.
Clark, however, is 10 months away from an election. The party is in trouble in the polls, tainted by scandal and abuses and unable to convince people it actually has a vision or a plan that goes much beyond slogans. And there is the sense of desperation, which is never attractive and rarely produces sound decisions.
And Clark, who faced the huge, maybe impossible, challenge of undoing the perception of arrogance and dishonesty caused by the HST fiasco, is now actually a drag on the party's fortunes.
A new leader is always an option. But not a likely one. The obvious candidates - Kevin Falcon, George Abbott, Rich Coleman - are all associated with the Campbell government's failings. An outsider, like Surrey Mayor Diane Watts, might have a better chance.
But every potential candidate would have to look at the polls and the prospects and judge whether the election next year is winnable. There's might not much satisfaction in spending four years in opposition.

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Health care in a poor country

I'm still getting used to living in a really poor country. I know all the stats. I've been doing research for the last six days for a project, so I really know them now. But the reality still surprises.
I'm in Tegucigalpa, the capital, working on a project. At breakfast in the hotel today - tipico, which means eggs, cheese, beans and toast (tortillas for most people) - I was reading the paper and there was a story about 430 doctors who want to work for free. (It was a slightly eerie breakfast, as I think I'm the only guest today.)
They're Hondurans who went to medical school in Cuba. They need to be certified in Honduras and do two years of service before they're allowed to practise. (Their counterparts from Honduran universities only need to do six month of service.)
But there's a catch. The government pays new doctors $310 a month during their period of service. And it doesn't have enough money to pay the 430 new Cuban grads. So for the lack of $133,000 a month, desperately needed medical care isn't available. (That's an oversimplification, because the government is also worried about the future, higher costs of paying those doctors when they're certified.)
On one level, it's not really a choice, at least in the short-term. The Honduras government has a budget of about $3.2 billion, for the army and education and police and health care and everything for 8.2 million people. The B.C. government spends $5.2 billion on elementary and high schools for a population barely half the size. (The reasons that Honduras has so little money rates another post.)
And, in fairness, B.C. takes the same approach, limiting residency placements to save money even though more foreign-trained doctors are keen to practise and need a residency to qualify.
But the system is much worse here. And the problems are much broader. Nursing assistants have been on strike in recent weeks because promised payments have not been made. Interns staged a long strike. Last week, the main hospital in Tegucigalpa cancelled surgeries because it didn't have the chemicals needed to test blood for safety before it was used. Doctors said the problem was that the hospital hasn't been paying suppliers, who won't deliver any more reagents.
It's a mixed public-private system here, and doctors can practise in both. Good luck if you're entirely dependent on the public system. (Which explains the widespread use of plants and herbs for healing in Copan, even in town. When my partner fell and made a mess of her knee, she was offered mango bark to make a antibiotic healing poultice. It seemed to help.)
And good luck if those who are so keen to slash health care spending in Canada get their way. The World Health Organization reports Canada spends 9.2 per cent of GDP on health care. Honduras spends 6.2 per cent.
President Porfirio Lobo criticized the health system Saturday, blamed administrative problems and vowed to sort things out. But with 17 months to go until the next election, he's already a lame duck. Presidents can only serve one four-year term in Honduras, and attention has shifted to this fall's primaries to pick candidates for the parties.
What should happen? Who knows. That's the first lesson from life in a poor country - there are no easy, quick fixes.

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PERCUMA HANDPHONE UNTUK 50 PENDAFTARAN TERAWAL! PASTI UNTUNG!

Jual Top up Murah

Daftar no Prepaid Celcom

Daftar no Prepaid Celcom

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PERCUMA HANDPHONE UNTUK 50 PENDAFTARAN TERAWAL! PASTI UNTUNG!

Daftar no Prepaid Celcom

Kad Reload Prepaid

Kad Reload Prepaid

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PERCUMA HANDPHONE UNTUK 50 PENDAFTARAN TERAWAL! PASTI UNTUNG!

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Daftar Number Digi Line

Daftar Number Digi Line

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PERCUMA HANDPHONE UNTUK 50 PENDAFTARAN TERAWAL! PASTI UNTUNG!

Daftar Number Digi Line

Share Top up Celcom

Share Top up Celcom

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PERCUMA HANDPHONE UNTUK 50 PENDAFTARAN TERAWAL! PASTI UNTUNG!

Share Top up Celcom

Topup Rm3 Share 2012

Topup Rm3 Share 2012
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PERCUMA HANDPHONE UNTUK 50 PENDAFTARAN TERAWAL! PASTI UNTUNG!
Topup RM3 Share 2012

U28 Prepaid

U28 Prepaid
Photobucket U28 Prepaid

Easy Reload Prepaid di Pulau Pinang

Easy Reload Prepaid di Pulau Pinang Photobucket Easy Reload Prepaid di Pulau Pinang

Bisness Reload

Bisness Reload Photobucket Bisness Reload

Jual Topup

Jual Topup Photobucket Jual Topup

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