Earth is Also a Star: Saving the World by Pairs

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Every great joke starts with a conventional setting where you can find characters that wouldn’t usually be together. Like “there were two Argentinians and two Hondurans in a car heading to visit a small little village.” Yet this time this is no joke, it’s a story. And a really cool one.

 

During the summer, I had the amazing opportunity to work with a small NGO in my city, called LARECOTURH. This organization was formed by a group of people from different communities, that wanted to develop tourism and to help these other communities discover their own potential as well. Within each community, they had assign delegates that represented the organization. This way, the organization is much more closer to the community, as it basically trains their members and makes them form part of the organization through specific roles. The organization carries out different projects and many of them involve the environment, since the main type of tourism in the northern coast of Honduras is ecotourism.

 

One project that I got to follow was located in a small little village that had tremendous problems with waste disposal. In this little trip I met an Argentinian couple who had met in Australia (let the internationality sink in!). Martina and Ezequiel were sitting in the back of the car while we were heading to Nueva Armenia. Martina always called Ezequiel ‘Bono’, cause his last name is Bonomi, so I adopted the name for him as well.  They undertook a trip around Latin America to promote the initiative of a campaign for the reduction of single use plastics in general. Their goal is to help communities transition into a healthier lifestyle.

 

Martina and Ezequiel had a desire to make a change and difference in the world through an aspect that they both were passionate about, the environment. Martina has lived and studied in Australia, and noticed that people there were very involved in initiatives that took the environment into account. Ezequiel said that the main reason he decided to go on this journey was the fact that he was in a stable job but he did not feel any passion for what he was currently working on. So he decided to try out his love for nature and help out. Martina felt like if she spoke Spanish, she had to help spread out the message through Latin America. The plan of the project was to start from Tijuana, Mexico and to finish in Patagonia, Argentina. As they travel from village to village they give talks to as many people as they can. Until that point they had spoken to about 4,500 villagers.  

 

They explained to me that the idea is to raise awareness. Many people use plastics once and have no idea where they end up after that. So as they show them the harms and impacts of plastics, they also teach children and adults how to do their groceries without plastic bags or how to create their own toothpaste, in order for them not to buy plastic products. Martina and Bono are very down to earth. They approach people and genuinely want to help them out. Their philosophy is to plant a seed but not leave it to its own devices.

 

One of the things that the couple finds rewarding is the reactions and gratefulness they receive from community members. Martina said that at times she would show videos that would help her prove a point, and usually she would love seeing the little kids reactions, like their bright little eyes of fascination in front of the screen. Bono said that what he loves is when something good comes out of it, when they reach people and through these talks actual change is generated. When people are truly involved and a positive outcomes grows out, and as a consequence a community develops itself thanks to this little seed they implanted. Their passion goes beyond a self driven purpose.

Indeed, Bono and Martina are really discrete individuals, and this project that may not seem transcendental proves an important point. It is not necessary to be a gigantic organization to be able to help. At the contrary, sometimes, big enterprises pretend to be saviors of small little villages and install projects but immediately leave. Martina commented that the whole point for them is to establish a connection, plant the “knowledge seed” and then keep in contact so that these seeds are able to grow into a plant, or even a tree.

 

Although both have admitted the job has not been easy at all, they valued many experiences as rewarding. Martina narrated this one experience she had in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. She said that she gave a talk and afterwards she proposed a groupchat with the environment enthusiasts and NGOs. She also proposed to add a member of government so that this would create an interesting dialogue. Indeed, afterwards, many law initiatives were proposed and the ban of the plastic bag was one of them. Martina said that this was very fulfilling, to see that a little contribution could become something so concrete and impactful. As for Bono, he says he really loves this one experience in Laguna de San Ignacio, Mexico. This is a small village of about 500 households and he tells how about 5 to 6 people attended the talk. At first he was disappointed. After the talk started he noticed how engaged and interested people were. For him, it was great to see the sense of happiness emanate from them. One thing Bono believes is that the numbers matter but not that much as interest. For him, one person really interested and enthusiastic could create a great change in a community, and that is what counts the most.

 

It’s true that a couple travelling around talking to people doesn’t seem too promising and yet they have influenced so many community and even law initiatives! One never knows the impact one might cause. At the same time, Martina and Bono are very aware that it’s not going to work well every time with every community. “Sometimes you know that seeds will grow and some others will not,” Martina told me. There are cases in which the seed get to grow into a plant and other were it gets to grow into a tree. However, always have in mind that the seed might not even survive under certain conditions. Both Martina and Bono know this well but still have a very positive approach.

 

Finally, the Argentinian couple concluded with a crucial part of why they took this initiative. “It is to move to actions, we have many studies in the world already. We need to get to the people!” they proudly said. Indeed, what good is it to study people from a little cubicle in front of your laptop, and find the best solution to their problems if you can’t adapt the solution to them? As for their journey, I really admired their sense of community. To me, Latin American has been too divided and recently becoming more xenophobic towards each other. As this couple travelled around it, it made me think it was a great example of how even our environment connects us. There’s not need for us to look for differences to separate us. Instead let us take care of nature, let us save the forests that give us oxygen, let us appreciate the ocean and the sun, the freshness of the mountain. Let us embrace that connexion.

Honduras: A Norwegian in La Ceiba

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When people ask me what is the thing I like the most about my city, I always say that I love the combination of mountain, river and sea. Let me tell you the story of how these three get along…

 

They have a unique relationship. The river seems to seduce the mountain while she slides dearly through her jungles, giving life to the toucans and macaws. And the mountain, ah! She feels so fortunate to have a lover like the river, who’s so gentle and treats her like a queen.

 

But the river is so fretful and he can’t declare his eternal love to the mountain. That’s why he continues his path until he finds the sea. Unfortunately, the sea lives forever in love with the sky, so much that it imitates its color. The beach is full of rocks that the river gifted to the sea, but the sea orders his waves to march only so that the sky can see them. The foam of the armies that come and go, imitate the clouds of the sky. The sea longs to be the sky, to be one with the sky, to share a romance with the bluish lover from above. However, this love is impossible. Here’s the tragic romance that starts from the mountain and ends with the sea. Nature is a tragic beautiful romance, an eternal paradox that entangles itself in the branches of the jungle, in the cold water of the river that longs for the heat of the sea, in the sea that thinks it touches the sky at the horizon, without knowing the perpetuity of his deception.

 

When people ask me what it is that i like the most about Honduras, I say it’s precisely how out of simplicity there is beauty, art, and love. The small little towns with tall grass. The abundant mountains full of palm trees, monkeys, snakes, waterfalls, and happy people that will work all day to avoid staying in bed. In the coasts, we are blessed by Garifuna communities, full of people that go out to greet the sun when it comes in the morning. They take advantage of the visit to find out what the sea will gift them with. They light us up with their dances, and their percussion sweetens our ears with melodies that seem to enchant our waist so that we move it on the rhythm of the music. They make us happy with their laughs, their expressions and their desire to live.

 

In the west, the Mayan left their mark. Stunning cities, doors to the path, full of history that tells us how we were made out of corn, and how we obeyed the sun when it was time to start building. In the east, we have La Mosquitia, land that is alien to globalization and to the predominant vice of destroying nature. It has its own language as well.

 

I like when people fall in love with my city, as much I am deeply lost in its beauty. A great friend of mine came from Norway to visit me the other day. I decided to give him an exclusive tour, that rarely any kind could give you! And it’s not a way to underestimate guides – or to pump my own self-esteem -,  but if you ever have a friend in any city you want to visit, make sure it’s you friend who tours you around the city. You won’t be a tourist anymore: you will be part of his culture. I for example, knowing that my friend likes nature, fish, and the sea, I designed a quick trip for him to visit a little bit of all this.

 

First, I took him to my uncles and my dad’s farm in Jutiapa, my father’s town. This is my favorite place on earth at night. There is no power, no technology, nothing to distract you from the light that the bugs or the stars give you. To get there, one has to pass a scene of Jurassic Park, up until now, without dinosaurs along the way. Once you get to the heart of the jungle, you will encounter the hot water rivulet. It’s magical, like another world in our world.

 

Then we took him to Nueva Armenia, a Garifuna community under the municipality of Jutiapa. My friend played a world cup match, the most intense one I’ve seen. All the players played their heart out there, and I’m also pretty sure that it was the match with the youngest players in history! After that, I took him to the sea, where the atlantic ocean clears you mind. Where the wind seems to have curative powers because it feel like no problem is too big when it caresses your face. And then, I took him to parts of my city, telling him their history and parts of my story.

 

After the tour, I was really glad to hear that he loved it and that he had spent such a great day. Of course, we had to experience a little of the night life, so I took him to a bar whose popularity has raised a lot recently, called El Jaguar. Here, he gave a try to the most well known shot, a tequila with chilli, know as Semen del Diablo. We were both very tired but lucky; the day had been great, with excellent weather, and at the bar, we even found some of my highschool friends I hadn’t seen for so long.

 

To my surprise, my friend told me my city really reminded him of his hometown. The beauty of the world is that two completely different countries can have more in common than what you think. What would Norway have in common with Honduras? They have different climate, economy, politics, culture,… CLIMATE! And then, he told me that his town was also a coastal town, the food that they eat was similar because they eat fresh seafood whenever they want.

 

Even the most opposite poles have something in common, they attract each other. Let’s not forget that idealists live all around the world. Whether it’s the desert or the north pole, there are always people everywhere with cravings of saving the world. The beauty of our world is that people from opposite countries can become best friends. The beauty is within all that we have in common, and it’s good to remind ourselves there’s always something we share, no matter how different we are to the other.

 

Credits: hondurastravel.com

 

Honduras: Welcome to Jutiapa!

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Before we had to worry about walking alone in the streets or the high prices of gasoline, it was the rivers, the mountains, the dirts roads, the mango trees and all of nature’s allies which dictated the law. Along the northern region of the Atlantic coast, the rivers kissed the fields with fertilizing love; and the jungles, with an abundant biodiversity. The green was king along these areas and the economy was ruled by the small farmers who would stay reverent to their majesty. Nature’s story described the union of two rivers that formed the Jutiapa river; the guardian, life giver and taker of this humble but nevertheless vivid town in the eastern side of Atlantida.

Under the discipline of aunts, his mother, and a couple scrapes (courtesy of the dirt roads and tree branches), Marden Daniel Espinoza Sandoval grew up here learning by the law of the land. My father always told me his adventures whenever the power would go out at night in our house. Some things still don’t change in Honduras but for the most part, the 1960s and 70s’ world my father talks about, is another life. Jutiapa during the night was powered by a small diesel motor and power generator that would go off at 9:00 p.m. After that, darkness would hug the night and fireflies would take over the night show along with the stars.

There was only one telephone in the entire town and it was located in the police station. It was a life without tremendous amounts of technology but much more social connections and ties. People in town would entertain themselves by playing with marbles, bikes, spinning wooden tops, many other traditional games, and of course the so beloved soccer that blessed many boys into the big cities to play with the bigger leagues. Life in the small town was peaceful, there was no fear other than the myths and legends that came out of the night. My father was the son of a farmer, and he and his 4 other brothers would go and sell milk everyday. To dream in this town meant to imagine a life with big buildings and lights at night; and yet, today, for me to dream in my city would be to imagine darkness in the jungle, under the tutelage of the moon and stars.

iglesia jutiapa.jpgMy father and uncles have kept my grandfather’s heritage, a farm called “Hot Water” because it’s home to a body of hot water that takes refuge in the bowels of earth but that expresses itself to the world as a vaporous rivulet. Jutiapa is a town so simple-hearted, straightforward, and yet full of the most comic adventures one would only think of as magic realism. I believe my father regrets nothing of such a humble and somewhat poor childhood, because he enjoyed every mili-liter of that river and every millimeter of those fields. He danced, he told jokes, he laughed and cried and lived in a town that taught him to ride horses without saddles and to laugh the pains away.

Jutiapa stays dear to him and it stays dear to me, too. I myself have scars in my knees of the dirt roads and the bike rides. The farm witnessed my first horse rides, our soccer matches in the fields with my cousins, and the baths in the old cow’s drinking wells. Here I’ve seen the most star populated skies, spent the most peaceful nights, and breathed the purest air. Near the hot water rivulet, the mountain’s proximity has gifted us with one of the most talented monkey choruses ever; howlers monkeys love to see the weird humans sing back at them when the night starts to take over.

And as we all grow up, I think we value more the small things we usually take for granted. No everyone gets to have a duet with monkeys. Not everyone gets to ride horses in the fields. Not everyone gets to jump off huge rock into cold rivers in summer afternoons. It’s this proximity to nature that I crave, sometimes… ae seem to forget the beauty and richness that simplicity tends to carry with her.

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Honduras: Coast, Heat, and Carnival!

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It’s that time in the year for ‘Ceibeños’ (inhabitants of La Ceiba, one of the largest town in Honduras) to party all day and night to the rhythms of the coast!

For the coastal Hondurans, party is no longer an option; it’s already part of their weekly routine. Don’t get me wrong! Coastal Hondurans are hard working, but when it comes to dancing, singing, and enjoying the holidays, they know how to deliver with radiant energy.

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May is the month of the carnival in La Ceiba, which this year will be celebrated on May 19. The entire week is dedicated to “La Feria Isidra” (The Isidorian Fair); and along various neighborhoods of the city, there are numerous celebrations in honor of Saint Isidore the Laborer. Saint Isidore is the city’s patron saint, whose holiday is celebrated May 15. For the Catholic community of the city, this day starts with a joyful dawn. Then, at noon, they have a procession for Saint Isidore; and finally, the evening is concluded with the celebration of a mass. Nevertheless, the carnival, which always takes place on a Saturday, welcomes all those willing to celebrate friendship and community love, regardless of their religious ideologies.

 

Saint Isidore is a catholic saint, also known as Saint Isidore the laborer. He was a Spanish farmer from Madrid, from which, along with La Ceiba and some other villages, he is the city’s patron saint. Saint Isidore was well known for his reverence to the poor and to animals as well. Quite numerous amount of miracles are attributed to him. He was very serviceable, and would often brings guests back home to offer them some lunch. In one occasion, he brought more guests than usual and his wife, Saint Maria de la Cabeza, was not expecting this. When she had served all the plates with the stew she had prepared in the cauldron, she proceeded to telling Saint Isidore that there was no more food. However, he insisted and told her to check again in the cauldron for more stew, and she spooned enough for every single guest.

The laborer was so devout that every morning, before going to work, he would attend to mass, and his workmates would complain about his lack of punctuality. So his master, in an attempt to clarify his doubtts, went to check on him. Upon his surprise, he found Saint Isidore praying, while an angel was plowing for him. On another instance, he saw that while he was plowing, two other angels were plowing with him; so Saint Isidore’s work consequently equaled that of three of his workmates.

 

He is now considered to be the patron saint of farmers, and those who work the fields. Often, he was asked to help them out with some kind of climate change that would benefit the crops they were growing. From this, emerged a song that asked him to change the sunny days into rainy ones, or, in many cases, to do the opposite as well. In Spanish, its phrase is

“San Isidro Labrador quita el agua y pon el Sol.

San Isidro Labrador quita el sol y pon el agua”

which literally translates to ‘Saint Isidore take the sun away and bring the water. Saint Isidore take the water away and put the sun.’ When we were small, we were taught this song, and whenever it rained, we would sing with the hope the sun would come out soon, for us to go play outside. If a saint can turn a gloomy day to one full of sunshine, I would also dedicate a week to celebrate that!

 

Although the birth of the celebration is attributed to the appreciation of the saint, today the carnival is no longer so linked with it. The fairs and celebrations are still named after him, but the carnival itself has been named the “Friendship Carnival”, and many people from all over the country, and even from neighboring countries such as El Salvador or Guatemala, come to this celebration. It is a long day usually characterized by intense heat. For many, the way they spend this day is part of their family traditions. Some get seats in the roofed bleachers the municipality sets up, and others try to arrive very early with their pickup trucks, parking them at the side of the road to settle their place early in the day.

 

The route of the carnival is set along the entire Saint Isidore Avenue, which extends itself across 3.4 km. The whole setting up takes place during the entire morning. At Noon, the booths and stands are already ready and those who sell food, given it’s lunchtime, use this opportunity to attract their clients. The 12 o’clock sun is tremendously strong. This is probably the reason why the carnival doesn’t start at 12 – and because participants take lunchtime very seriously as well.

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The excitement and the energy start flowing from the morning, but the actual float parade starts at 2 p.m., just right after people have eaten and are ready to enjoy the show. You have numerous amounts of animators on the floats. Dancers, singers and models are decorated with extravagant dresses. Some local designers such as Eduardo Zablah, let their imaginations run through the colors and magic of the coastal city, to come up with extravagant costumes that are fit for such grandiose occasion. The parade lasts until the afternoon and early evening. Besides the floats, you also get to see horses parading, motorcyclists, and dancers such as garifuna groups, and some marching bands from renowned schools of the city. After the parading, the hours of fun are not over of course! There are numerous concerts of national and international bands and artists. The locals and guests enjoy the night to its fullest and those who can, stay to greet the sunrise.

 

The carnival is indeed one of the events ‘Ceibeños’ are really eager about. Many have already posted about their excitement and claimed they are ready to catch as many necklaces as possible. The people in the floats, horses, dancers in the street, and even some citizens who happen to live in this avenue, have well enrooted the tradition of giving away necklaces to the passersby, and those in the bleachers too. It’s incredible what people do for a necklace. But hey, that’s the tradition, if you don’t have at least one necklace by the end of the parade, it’s almost as if you weren’t there!

 

The happiness is in high amounts in this day; and for those 24 hours citizens get to clear their minds of  any problems they might be confronting. For those 24 hours, you can dance, sing, drink, jump, laugh and give away smiles to anyone you encounter… Essentially live live to its fullest. If I had to characterize people from La Ceiba with an event, it would definitely be the carnival. All the activities and affairs of this Saturday sum up life in one of Honduras’ coastal cities. This lifestyle might strike as a bit crazy, but after all, Celia Cruz was right: there’s no need to cry because life is just that, a carnival!

 

Honduras: Is there anything left to save in Honduras?

Honduras, land and of tall grass fields, jungles, rivers, beaches, mountains, coral reefs and so many wonderful sunsets. Geographically you might find all kind of marvels in there, but besides our aesthetic beauty, believe it or not, there is so much more to be proud of within this humble little country.

It’s 112, 492 m2 full of people that are ready to work from sunset to dawn. Hondurans, also known as “catrachos”, are people that besides all the hardships and circumstances that they have to put up through, will keep on walking even if they might not have legs (Just as Calle 13’s song Latinoamérica). Hondurans also are ready to help out even if they don’t find themselves in the best conditions ever.

The story of the demonym “catrachos” proves the solidarity of our people. Honduran General Florencio Xatruch is to whom we owe the gentilic, to be precise. In 1855, he fought against the filibuster William Walker, an American who was born in 1824 and wanted to conquer various regions of Latin America, in the attempt to form new slaves states to join to the already existing ones in the US – this was called ‘filibustering’. He managed to invade and rule Nicaragua from 1856 to 1857. However, Central American troops were ready to fight for their liberties and Xatruch, alongside with generals from Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala, fought against Walker, defeating him at several battles. Xatruch fought with an army of 600 hondurans, which were called the ‘Xatruch brothers’ – in Spanish, “los hermanos Xatruch.”

But this general happened to be from Catalan descendance, and it was impossible for people to pronounce the name correctly; so they called them “los hermanos catruches”, the “catruches brothers” in English. From then it morphed to today’s “Catrachos”, very widely used amongst Hondurans and some Central Americans. The gentilic is something Hondurans take pride of indeed!

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Our history has often defined us as fighters. In 1954, Honduras witnessed its biggest and most important worker’s strike. From the 1rst  and 2nd of May, Honduran workers demanded that which American transnationals deprived them of: their social and worker rights. The banana companies, for instance, exploited workers, appointed congressmen, determined who would be in office and how long, and in short, ‘owned’ Honduras during these times. Under the Tiburcio Carias Andino dictatorship lasting from 1933 to 1949, civil and humans rights have been violated in high quantities.

The strikes started in 1953 and in attempts to stop any form of revolts, the workers were punished by being forced to work days without pay on Sundays, the day assigned for resting. Yet, Hondurans fought back and met in two important ports for the banana shipments. From two initial ports the strike spread to all the banana plantations, and the workers could not be ignored anymore. Quickly, it became a popular uprising of the entire country, that expanded to other domains and factories as well. The strike finally stopped in what seemed to be an uneased ending. But it left the country in shock. The National Party, that wanted to continue its dictatorship with successors, was overthrown. A call for elections then led to the presidency of Villeda Morales, who, in 1959 established a “work code” that legalized syndicalism and reformed workers’ rights. The fight lasted 69 days and proved that the workers had an ardent will to go beyond obstacles, even if that meant risking their lives. This spirit of “lucha” – or in English, the will to fight – has not left Honduran souls.

Everyday, women, men, children even, wake up early to go ‘win their bread’ yet it seems that so many other forces have much stronger reign in Honduras. I’m sure that if you happen to have any knowledge of Honduras, that which you know is perhaps not so bright or marvellous. Recently, San Pedro Sula, Honduras, was said to be the most violent city in the world;  however according to 2018 statistics, we went down to the 26th spot in 2017, reducing in one year the rate by about 54% thanks to the efforts of the current government. There are tones of negatives stories in newspapers and television news. But there is still lots to save from the despair Honduras seems to be in.

Catrachos are entrepreneurs and extraordinarily talented in sports, arts and sciences such as maths. They are also described by their creativity. Recently, in 2017, a sugar cane farmer developed his own sugar cane juice extractor! Although the invention probably already existed, he developed his own prototype with no academic knowledge of engineering. This is one more way to show that it is hard work that leads to success: when a Catracho wants to do something, nothing can stop him! In La Ceiba, the third most important city of Honduras, Jose Chinchilla, a young entrepreneur, organized the very first Honduran TedX event in 2017, and is currently organizing the second one.

This is just some proof that the negative forces that seem to rule our country are as strong as we let them be, and many don’t let them be strong at all. Honduras has such a History and so much to improve and grow! Yet there is one sure thing, there is much to be proud from. So go deeper than the first article you find of Honduras and fall in love with it as I and many other have! I’ll leave you some articles I used and others, for you to learn about the history and the wonders that Catrachos like to share with the world.

Truly yours,

A proud Honduran, but most importantly a proud citizen of the world,

Ana Catalina, Keeper of Honduras