Metro Media Madness

Tegucigalpa - August 2005

Wave Hello, Say Goodbye

We’ve spent the past two years slogging away under great hardships…building websites, teaching IT classes, starting a mobile library, giving educational talks, making several tourist maps and building a school. It’s been grueling at times but rewarding. So here’s the fairy tale ending. It seems incredible but we two humble volunteers are swiped from development obscurity to come to the big city and land plum-ish assignments at the United Nations. Yes, we are still [name of international volunteer agency removed by request] volunteers but we have been generously allowed to finish off our “service” working on projects at the world‘s governing body in Honduras.

Art in the campo.

Awwwww, puppies.

In Spanish there are two words which mean happiness (“alegria” and “felicidad”). Thus we were able to express double joy in fleeing from our remote and isolated Zacapa home to settle for the next three months in the vast metropolis that is the capital. Our plan to sneak out of Zacapa unannounced in the still of night to avoid all those tearful and dramatic farewells was thwarted when word leaked of our impending departure. In the event it was a simple but emotional departure with the expected mixed feelings. We leave behind several always-to-be-lifelong friends and many wonderful acquaintances in the community we grew to call home. However as fate would have it our new “job(s)” had us return straight away to the Zacapa region to do some trainings. There really did seem like there was no escape for a while but now we’re here [phew!]. Some people expressed shock that we might want to do this but hey… what can I say. If I’ve learned one thing from this wild crazy ape experience it’s that we are definitely city people.

Now that we're in the big city, here's what's hot and what's not...

Limones del Campo
Limones Urbanos
Being woken up by roosters
Being woken up by car alarms
Cell phones
2PM naps
2AM deadlines
Tortilla, rice and beans
Arugula salad on focaccia with blue cheese
BBC World News
Barbed wire
Wireless Internet
Gut-rotting Tatascan guaro
Pink gins with olives
Some guy selling vegetables on the sidewalk
Supermercado Colonial
Spray starch
United Fruit Company
United Nations
Fear of running out of food
Fear of running out of kiwi fruit
Shortwave radio
Rides on the back of dirty pickup trucks
Rides in the back of dirty taxis
Small children

Shocking Culture

We’re still reeling from the dizzying helter skelter ride of living in a tiny picturesque village with chickens and mountains and heat and impossibly thick accents and then suddenly finding ourselves in the big vibrant capital with noise and dirt and DVD rental stores and “watchymen” and crisply ironed clothes. Hot and drinkable water flows from out water system. We don’t *just* have a TV now but 98 channels of mind-rotting cable. Instead of being followed by swarms of attention seeking children I am now stalked through the streets by tenacious tooting taxis. Our social status has been elevated and we are no longer the local curiosity as Tegucigalpa is swarming with foreign aid workers, embassy staff, religious proselytizers and even the occasional flip flopping backpackers.

Into the hornet's nest.

Mystic bat women at the
San Juancito cultural festival

The Big Banana

Tegucigalpa (referred to as “Teh-GOOS” by the locals and “TEH-Guz” by gringos has a long but somewhat boring history. The name means “silver hill” in the Nahuatl language because of the metals that have long since been extracted. The Spanish constructed the cathedral in 1765 and it seems they have been restoring it ever since. It’s been the official capital since 1880 and as capitals go it really hasn’t seen a lot of action since, especially in the infrastructure department. Mostly shabby and forlorn, the buildings spread upwards into the mountains where they disintegrate into tumbledown shantytown slums of brutal suffering.

I like Bananas

That said, the climate is close to perfect and with patience you can almost learn to like it. Like a gargoyle with a great personality. The center is thankfully now free of the roaming lawless gangs of naked children (orphans of victims of the “disappearances” in the eighties and reportedly “disappeared” themselves in the early nineties by police). However you will find a heart rendering collection of shockingly disfigured and disabled people lining the sidewalks, all seemingly disposed to begging for an existence in light of the complete absence of medical care and social accommodation.

All Honduran busses come
ready equipped with a fisheye lens.

Lenca children drawing
anthropomorphic birth control.

Nations United

I can’t quite describe the feeling of absolute ego satisfaction as I arrive at work to see the big sky blue UN flag fluttering above the building. It may still be Honduras but it’s still a symbol world government, and one that I have held in high esteem for the majority of my adult life as the nirvana of importance and relevance. “How many people work at the UN?” the old joke goes. “About half of them”. Well here in Honduras you have to be well connected, hard working and highly qualified to get a job working in the Casa de las Naciones Unidas building. Then there’s me. It’s a high-powered game of bureaucracy and there is indeed paperwork and lots of it. The programs here are divided up and split and tenuously linked to a point where even people are unable to explain the relationships within their own programs. It’s like a huge mutant octopus with several brains that needs feeding huge sums of money and never seems to know at any one moment what any one tentacle is up to.

Cubicle City

In a way, no one is actually working for the UN. The UN is just another word for a bank someone told me on my first day. All the programs are just parasitic projects sucking at the proverbial UN teat. And far from the glistening echoing corridors and vast halls you might imagine, the building is a warren of cubicles and a labyrinth of passageways and corridors with overhead pipes and wires causing you to duck and a slalom course of cardboard boxes filed with long outdated brochures. In fact some of the offices are downright shabby and there seems to be a mandate that there are always fewer chairs than people so it’s not uncommon to find your chair “borrowed” when you come back from the bathroom. No one it seems wants to bother with filling out the tiresome request forms for a new chair. This results in some very strange conversations. “Have you seen my chair?” “I think Malaria might have it but if they don’t ask AIDS”..

L-R: Naudin Tinoco (unemployed),
Miguel Pastor (former presidential hopeful and current mayor of Tegucigalpa) and
Jonathan Lemon (former cartoonist and
current international development volunteer).

Serious presidential favorite
Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo with a blurry Lemon.

Name Droppings

So as fore mentioned, I am working on a website for the United Nations Development Program which is funding the Global Fund in Honduras who in turn funds smaller programs. Everyone wants a website of course and I’ve been all to happy to oblige on many occasions during the past two years. It does however feel like a real job. In fact it is a real job except we don’t get paid. Julia has been assigned to one of these programs called “Jóvenes Sin Fronteras” which does workshops with youth in around the country and as a result gets to travel a lot more than me. The workshops are a lot of fun and are extremely effective at raising HIV/AIDS awareness in the at-risk communities. At least they are fun the first ten times you do them.

Working at the UN of course is an excellent gateway back into the real world. Once again I find myself in pointless meetings with people who have no power to make decisions delegating responsibilities to departments with no ideas running programs that have no apparent goals. However, mixing with the high-powered elite at the UN brings me into contact with all sorts of Honduran “celebrities”. On my second day I noticed someone looking over my shoulder and when I turned round there was Gabriela Nuñez. Now that may not mean much to you but let me say that if I could vote in the Honduran presidential elections I would have voted for Gabriela Nuñez. She ended up a close third in the primaries but she will be back next time. Also I met another presidential hopeful and mayor of Tegucigalpa, Miguel Pastor, not to mention the chance encounter with my new best friend Allan McDonald—the best cartoonist in Honduras (although his roots are actually Nicaraguan/Irish). You can see his cartoons every day on the El Heraldo website.

The problem with
concrete in hot climate.
Leakage in Zacapa.

Zacapan gecko.

White Trucks

There is a definite culture of foreign aid workers and foreign office types who tend to stick together and mingle with the influential and rich Hondurans. It’s easy to see why. It’s also easy to see why nearly all our friends are Hondurans. With enough money you can almost float above the poverty. Jump into your white car (or better still have your driver pick you up) and you can skip over the nasty bits of the city and spend your time between the mall, the office the Zona Viva and your home, guarded 24 hours by some poor Honduran who has to stroll in front of a 10 foot high razor-wire topped wall blowing a whistle.

Aquí Se Habla Español

The first thing I did when getting to the capital was find a Spanish tutor. It’s not that my Spanish is bad; I’m lurking around the “advanced high” range and certainly find it no obstruction in everyday life. But the truth is I have suddenly become obsessed with language. Me fascina totalmente as they say. In Zacapa there really wasn’t much enthusiasm for using the pluperfect subjunctive, by me or anyone else. Now I can find several times a day to slip it into casual conversation and feel pretty darn good about myself.

Tegucigalpan gecko

The Monkey Versus Robot
album in production.

Monkey Versus Robot

Yes, my CD track debut this year is now in stores. One reviewer at Hang Nine Webzine described my modest entry into the surf instrumental field as “completely bonkers”. Meanwhile in France an unofficial (and somewhat incomplete) Monkey Versus Robot webpage has sprung up courtesy of This months penultimate music ego-boosting news is that radio station KZSU at Stanford University did a short music marathon which features some of my ancient and forgotten ditties, many of which stretched the very definition of the word “song” by their length and lack of a middle eight. Finally, Jesus Couldn't Drum are Top Artist of the week for Aug 28-Sep 4th on Last FM. It never ceases to amaze me the durability of music. The music that lasts anyway. By the way, if your iPod needs boosting with eclectic bedroom pop music you can download some for free from my musica page.

The Big Mosquito

One of the nicer aspects of urban living is the relative isolation from natures more tenacious pests. However, being sealed off from nature also means that one slip and you can be sealed in. For two days we were stalked and feasted on by a blood-thirsty mosquito that found its way into our cosmetically sealed apartment until Julia managed to corner it in the laundry room and deftly crush it with her patented one handed slap. It was close to driving us totally bonkers. City mosquitoes are as big as a Buick. It must be all the toxins in the water.

Urban mosquitos...a different breed.

Angry taxi drivers are all fired
up over gasoline prices.

Panic On the Streets of Tegucigalpa

Gasoline prices have been rising worldwide but here in Honduras—where the government controls the prices—there have been suggestions that it is taking advantage of the situation. Things came to a head this month with violent demonstrations on the streets of the capital where all roads were blocked and sensible people like us stayed indoors instead of going to work and watched the whole darn riot unfurling on TV as helicopters whirred overhead. In many ways it's nice to see Hondurans so fired up over something but the government knows that it can either ride out the storm or revert to the old prices in order to avoid a major crisis. If the revolution will be televised, it won't be airing on Honduras anytime soon.

Tangos, Toucans and Tierra Del Fuego

Thus this penultimate dispatch rumbles to a closure. “So what’s next?” three people have been nice enough to ask. Well, although still in the vague notion of an ill thought out idea, the plan is to head south after this crazy mess is over and finalized as a way of discovery and also because we will most likely never again have no obligations and pockets full of readjustment allowance at the same time. South America beckons and awaits discovery. After that, who knows where we’ll end up. But wherever it is you can be sure to follow our wacky adventures right here on the pages of Lemonworld dot com!

Hasta pasta amigos.

A large Moth dangling
somewhere below the equator?

My farewell edition

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J. Lemon / Lemonworld 2005. All rights reserved. This web site is not an official publication of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government. The contents of this Web site reflect the personal opinions and observations of the individual(s) contributor(s) and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.