South American Way

Managua & Tegucigalpa - October 2005


Final Countdown

Things are winding up here in Honduras just when we started getting comfortable in our city digs.  It’s true that we are not really working so much as volunteers anymore.  The United Nations stuff is like a real job but without the pay check. However, the payoff is that we have amble opportunity for self-indulgence and we spend much less time actually integrating with our community.  One assumes this is why most Peace Corps volunteers are stuck out in the sticks.  Actually, like most cities there isn’t much community in Tegucigalpa. Our neighborhood is almost exclusively upper-middle class.  These are Hondurans who drive out of the garages to the mall without so much of a “buenos días” as they pass by the tall gringo struggling up the hill in shabby sneakers but we are on friendly terms with all their dogs. 

It's always best to stay on the right
side of your neighborhood vigilante.

Honduran irony. The Coca-Cola sign and the Christ Statue share the prime real estate site..

The Real Thing

Tegucigalpa is a truly ugly city with very little to recommend it.  However, dig a little under the dirt and you can find some gems of remarkable wonderfulness. However, like any distressed developing nation capital, Tegucigalpa is festooned with the pampered ex-patriots of the Embassies, UN, IMF, World Bank, EU and religious doo-gooders inflating rents, filling restaurants and crowding streets with the ubiquitous land rovers. They scoop up the cream of cosmopolitan talent to work along side them thus depriving the domestic civil service of the talent required.

Back to Her Raices

We used up our remaining vacation time by stealing a trip to Nicaragua to visit Julia’s parents who were returning to their homeland for the first time in nearly twenty five years.  They were originally supposed to come to Honduras but never made it. This had something to do with the “Honduran” support for the Contras during the Sandinista government of the eighties.

Julia in the hood.

Kittens and an adorable plastic bag.

In a strange twist we are now more familoiar with the capital than they are and had fun taking them to streets, schools and houses which they knew as youngsters, sadly most of them long since gone—victims of earthquakes, erosion or development. Now just grassy vacant lots carpeting the memories. We did find an old post office where her father grew up in the cute little fishing town of Corinto that was still there. A railway ended there once, presumably to take dead fish inland to be consumed and exported. No one was old enough to remember him of course as he’s 86.


A Brief History Lesson

Tomas Borge was a Sandinista.  He managed to frustrate and evade the Contras until 1977.  When they couldn’t find him they killed his wife. When they finally did capture him they tortured him for seven months.  [this from documented court testimony provided by his lawyer] …for the first fifteen days of detention he was beaten 24 hours a day except for the times he passed out. He was then forced to stand for two months with two guards posted to make sure he didn’t shift position.

Rogues gallery of shoplifters
posted at the local supermercado.

A free iPod for anyone who steals my
copy of "Immortality" by Milan Kundera.

There were seven months of being handcuffed and nine months of living with a hood over his head. After a while he was allowed access to some books although many requests were denied…. A book on psychic energy was taken away because the guards feared he would free himself by bending the bars with is mind.  Marx’s “Das Kapital” was likewise denied because the authorities thought it would “instruct him on being a capitalist” (?!!).  After the triumph of the revolution, Borges torturer was captured and Borges was allowed to exact his revenge.  He chose to forgive him.


Nicaraguan politicians have taken the whole corruption stereotype to a new level since the fall of the Somoza dictatorship (during which at least fifty thousand people were killed and thousands more “disappeared”).  Current president Enrique Bolaños (a former two-time jailbird under the Sandinista government) is under investigation for campaign funding irregularities.  His predecessor Arnoldo Aleman is serving a 20 year jail sentence having been convicted of fraud and money-laundering and Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista president was a bank robber.  Yes. 

Lemon's father-in-law hugs a random
old man in a Managuan supermarket.

In search of roots. This railways station
was where the Zeuli clan really began.

This was in 1967 long before the revolution while the twenty-two year old future FSLN leader was attempting to obtain funds for the rebels.  This was not his first foray into crime for the cause. He did seven years until he was ransomed after a bunch of Sandinistas stormed an elegant society Christmas party in Managua in 1974 and exchanged their hostages for Ortega and two dozen other prisoners. But not before Ortega himself had been tortured and beaten, almost losing sight in one eye.

The Ono of the STones

Bianca Jagger (less well known perhaps as Bianca Perez Morena De Macias) is perhaps the most famous Nicaraguan.  She witnessed the horror of the Somoza regime in the late 70s which inspired her to campaign for human rights, social and economic justice throughout the world.  She may be mostly known for being the married to a rock star for 8 years but she has actually been pretty active in raising awareness for the rights of women, indigenous peoples and  the downtrodden.

Lemon draws a portrait art

Two turtles on top of a crocodile..

The Wire

Ironically after being Internet deprived for two years we finally got Internet at home so I can at last catch up with my personal correspondence.  It’s been a while since I last wrote.  It seemed like every day we would come home to a new plug in the wall but that was nearly two months ago.   Now we finally have it.  Wow what a luxury and what a difference it makes.

Serious Young People in Important Trousers

Our time as Peace Corps volunteers ends in three weeks.  We still don’t know what will happen after that.  There is a possibility that we might stay on at the United Nations for a few more weeks if or projects aren’t finished. If not we are going to travel around South America.  Peru, Ecuador, Panama and Argentina seem to be our broad consensus.  Then back to San Francisco while Julia waits to find out what the graduate school lottery will deal her.

United Nations employee Jonathan Lemon
sports his free t-shirt and door pass..

The inspiration for Roald Dahl's river of
chocolate or the Rio Choluteca, after heavy rains?

They Think It's All Over

So as rain and tropical storms beat down on us our thoughts turn to the future and a return to the real world.  Have we become institutionalized?  Will life ever be the same again. It’s been a long strange trip but for now we’re off to South America.

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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.