Slacking off and San Pedro Sula

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Slacking Off and San Pedro Sula

It’s nice to listen to full albums again.  The hostel worker and I watched Montage of Heck (Kurt Cobain Documentary) which inspired me to sew a new musical patch on my soul.

I just finished the full “Nevermind” album on YouTube while reading the lyrics of each song.  I’m slowly learning to let myself out of my cage for extended periods of time.  When I can, these are the things I get to do.

Now I’m going through “In Utero”.  I’m doing this for artistic inspiration and because I  believe he knew things that I don’t.  And I’m eating honey roasted creamy peanut butter with my bare hands.  This is a good time.

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The thing I really respect about Cobain is that he hated interviews and never explained his art.  IT’S ART!!! There is no way to explain sufficiently where it came from or what it means.  Even talking about what you were doing when you made the art is misleading and sabotages both the artist and audience.  Being extremely vague or just silent is the only honest reaction.

The identity of the artist is not even relevant to the the art.  I have always felt it a conflict of interest to brand an individual art piece.  The signature certainly is not part of the damn painting.  Their names would have to be part of the original concept or come out randomly in the process.    You don’t hear Mick Jagger slipping, “Rolling Stones” at the end of every song.  It’s goofy and doesn’t belong.

The jam session we had after the documentary was difficult with only 5 rusty strings on his electric.  The guitar shop Google points me to is in the city center.  Cargo shorts or board shorts?  Barefoot or running shoes?  Big, expensive looking camera or no?  I think the labels are getting to me since this is the “murder capitol of the world”.  I wonder: Am I asking to get mugged and/or shot?  It’s 8:43AM.

I have to breathe out slowly and ask myself, “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”

This city is run by fear.  The gang members are afraid of the cops and overcompensate for this fear by constantly proving they aren’t afraid.  EVERY house has a tall concrete wall surrounding it with razor wire and/or shards of glass and sharpened steel exposed at the top of the fence.  There are signs for Super Perro (Super Dog) at every street corner, which is a business to help train your brand new, full grown Doberman Pincher.  The police stand vigilant in the streets with shotguns.

My hostel is in an area resembling an armored Beverly Hills, in the foothills of the green mountains surrounding the city.  There is even a cheeky Coca-Cola sign placed in the hills that resembles the Hollywood sign.  Surely there is a sect of people who do not walk around town with fear coursing through their veins.

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I had a powerful dream several months ago. The message was: all bad things that have happened throughout history were because of decisions made out of fear.  So it’s barefoot and board shorts for me with a big fat DSLR camera on my back.  Only about 20 blocks from my destination in the city center.

From the reactions of backpackers and locals and the Never Sleep Alone stickers around the hostel, I was beginning to believe I was walking into a gunfight without even a rock to throw.

I want to sleep in a hammock because it’s $5/night instead of $13.  I am denied because the staff were afraid someone would jump the 9 foot concrete wall in the night and accost me.  My logic at this point is completely overrun with scary labels.

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Several friends of mine have told me, “It’s all about intention.”  I repeated this mantra to myself as I headed into town.  Whistling “Dumb” by Nirvana helped my shoulders hang carelessly as I walked with an easy gait.  When I pass a security guard with a shotgun in his hands, I simply smile and say, “Buenas!”  It gives me more confidence each time they rock back on their heels and their stone faces morph into birthday party smiles.

Meanwhile I’m taking these pictures.  Sure, it’s interesting to share the various forms of electric fences and barking Rottweilers running up trees to get a look over the fence.  But showing how scary San Pedro Sula is will only perpetuate its tragedy.  I’d rather show you the soul glowing through the cracks.  We can discuss the rest and the reader is free to do their own research, which, rest assured is nothing but a cluster of terrorizing attempts to reach the headlines.

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This is what I see underneath the camera-infested steel gates and weighing fear the citizens wear like blood-soaked blankets.

Once inside the city center (roughly 1 million inhabitants) I am still bouncing and snapping photos of every good thing I discover.  Two gentlemen are talking amongst themselves and looking at my bare feet.  One has nervous, downward eyes.  The smaller, older one has piercing black holes where, long ago, his wrinkles consumed his eyes and the rest of his face. His forearms are stained with oil from working on cars all morning.

I ask them where I might find a ‘ferreteria’ (hardware store) to buy some super glue to fix the eye piece on my camera.  The younger man of about 40 answers in English. We quickly learn that we lived only 20 minutes from each other in New Jersey.  He has to get something from the store as well and invites me to ride on the pegs of his bicycle.  It’s a downhill ride and the music shop is on the way.

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We weave around cars and pedestrians for the next 8 blocks.  The thin metal pegs dig into the arches of my feet.  The ride is exciting and much more efficient than walking.  After 5 to 10 minutes we reach a music shop and I get some electric strings for my friend’s guitar, the main purpose of going to town.

Next, I buy some glue and we walk to the park at the center of the city.  He tells me about the various buildings and some history.  When he explains that he can’t find a job, I get the feeling he’s going to ask me for money when we part ways.  I decide I’d rather avoid the awkward situation, so offer to buy him a coffee if he can show me where the best coffee shop is.  It’s very close to the park and there isn’t a seat available.  Jorge is a latte guy.  I can respect that.

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He tells me that downtown is no place to be after the sun goes down.  I agree.  He also points out that there are a lot of street children, but no shelters.  The reason, and one of the biggest root problems in Honduras, is that fathers tend to leave their children.  Some leave to find jobs since the banana/agriculture industry still hasn’t recovered from the disastrous Hurricane Mitch in 1998, the second deadliest hurricane in Atlantic history.  When you have a basic infrastructure and get hit with 75 inches of rain in one week, it’s going to be bad.  Jorge said the bodies floating around were terrible, but the cows were the worst.

His father took off with another lady when he was but a lad.  From recently watching Kurt Cobain’s documentary, Montage of Heck, I can see the potential affects of abandonment.  Everyone wants to feel like they belong and are accepted.  It must be tough on a kid to grow up thinking no one gives a shit if you are still around tomorrow.

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According to Jorge, the former First Lady of Honduras, Aguas Ocana took in street children when her husband was in office from 2002 to 2006.  Here is a clipping from chinadaily.com.cn:

[Honduran first lady Aguas Ocana, a former Spanish diplomat with an affable manner, charms her way through state dinners and genteel charity events. her [sic] real passion is venturing out at night to dangerous parts of the capital to rescue street children from a life of begging, poverty and crime.

Since June, a program headed by the first lady has taken 670 street kids from Tegucigalpa and the northern city of San Pedro Sula into government care.]

There is another side of the story as told by this ‘rescued’ child:

[“I want to go home. Here they don’t let us go out to play in the field and they don’t give us a lot of food,” said Delmer Moises Duarte, 7, at a children’s care center.]

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 A generation of lost children looking for community seems to me a fertile field in which to grow an organization of criminals.  This is surely the source of the two gangs (the MS-13 gang and the 18th Street gang) whose war has divided the city.  There is infinitely more detail and I’m not going to pretend like I know much about any of this.  I really don’t want to live here long enough to have a genuine understanding of the culture.

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The violence is real.  I saw a nightmare in Jorge’s eyes when he shared a recollection from 2 years ago.  On his way home from work he saw, past the yellow caution tape, a man lying on the same street we had just walked down.  I really hope I wasn’t prying, but silence tends to get filled.  He ended his recount by saying that he could “see the brain”.  I really just wanted to understand the cause of the violence, but I guess he wanted me to understand the presence.

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But, if you stop to think about it, this guy lives in downtown Deathville, right?  He works in the heart of San Pedro pretty close to the most dangerous neighborhood.  He only saw one event involving one shooting in the last TWO YEARS.  Sounds like any town anywhere.

This is part of the sickness.  People feel the need to perpetuate and spread bad news.  That is why the news is so successful.  And it somehow makes you feel important when your city has a label, even if it is murder capital of the world.  The vast majority of the homicides involve Hondurans between the age of 16 and 30.  If you can refrain from hanging around with dangerous gangs, you will probably be just fine.  Like me.

Every time I’ve been in dangerous places, the locals have tried to protect me.  They know what it takes to survive, most likely by learning the hard way.  Police have told me in Atlanta to pump gas somewhere else.   In Harrison, NJ (where Jorge lived) police have told me not to stop at red lights.  In West Oakland, Baltimore, The Bronx, Tokyo, parts of L.A., San Salvador, and others I can’t remember right now, I have been told to leave.

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It’s difficult to understand why they can live there and I can’t even walk through.

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That story kind of took a turn down a dark alley.  I guess that’s the reality of the situation.  The original point of this post was to show the bright side of this much feared place.  The scientific method doesn’t always support the hypothesis.  Fear is learned by these people at a young age, making it harder to eradicate after maturity.

Jorge has seen positive changes in the past two years.   A truce has been made between the gangs.  The same two gangs in El Salvador made a truce and violence dropped significantly.  Also, the “big heads” of the gangs and drug trafficking have been extradited to the United States penal system.

This is ironic since both MS-13 and 18th Street gangs began in Los Angelos. A mass immigration to the States took place during civil wars in Central America in the 1980’s.

Looking back further, (dare we study history?) there are some curious finds.  Nicaragua, for example, had a “Sandinista” government which the “Contras” (with U.S. training and aid) would eventually eradicated in 1990.  Congress banned U.S. support with the Boland Agreements in 1982 and 1984, but the CIA and president in office continued to give covert support. {source: Brown University – Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs}

Going back further, the Sandinistas took control of Nicaragua 1979 after they ousted a dictatorship which had been in control since 1936.  This dictatorship was U.S. sanctioned and followed the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933.

If you had trouble following, The U.S. makes sure they have who they want running the sovereign nation of Nicaragua.  We aren’t going to get into the history of other sovereign nations right now.  It’s worth knowing your neighbors though.

A friend of mine has been living in Honduras on and off for the last 40 years.  When I asked her about the U.S. occupation, she said, “Yeah, the U.S. is still pissed that Honduras told them to leave.  Why do you think they keep saying it´s the most dangerous place?”

There´s also the Russian-communism-Coldwar-involvement-prevention excuse, but the timing is screwy and it’s really been going on since the Panama Canal was dug.  What other countries are being boycotted with scary labels due to misbehaving?

Yeah, it’s a scary place.  It was once and will once again be peaceful.  It will always be beautiful.

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Acting in fear may keep you alive, for a while, but it gives evil that much more power.

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