If life gives you lemons, make lemonade

Dispatch from Zacapa & Belize - Honduras April 2004

Zacapita makes his public debut

The Great Zacapa Website Caper

The long awaited debut of the new Zacapa website went ahead despite one obvious glitch—the absence of an Internet connection. In Honduras this doesn’t seem to matter. Lemon had been working on this project for some time (on and off) with his trusty team of contributors and community volunteers. We had set an arbitrary date (March 24th) and the day rapidly approached with the promise from the town mayor that something would happen and that events had been planned.


Lemon slaved away making a mascot outfit for the little cartoon character (“Zacapita”) which he had created for the Culture Center. He suckered a poor kid into wearing the costume promising fame and fortune. It turned out to be a success beyond our wildest fantasies. The kids went nuts every time he appeared which was pretty impressive for a costume made out of baloons and wire and cost less than US$3 to make.

Free Internet access! (note Julia in background aiding computer illiterate five-year old who has just managed to delete the hard drive)

Zacapita joins in a traditional Honduran National dance

As the day unfolded it transpired that more and more events were taking place. Thousands of people descended upon the Centro Cultural. Kids were making Zacapita models in the library. The computer room was full of eager beaver children checking out the website and doing untold damage to the hardware. There was a dance competition (all Hondurans can dance the "Pirulino") and later on, as the darkness descended, several groups of traditional Honduran dancers appeared, occasionally joined by a feisty Zacapita which drew hails of jocular laughter.

Some students did a short play and some adorable kids from the local kindergarten appeared dressed as fat midget dwarves(?!) The climax of the evening was—much to Lemon’s embarrassment—the projection of the new website onto a big screen accompanied by lots of ooohs and aaahs folowed by several hours of Marimba Zacapa and dancing nto the night. Needless to say is was all a roaring success and we were superstars of Zacapa, for one night at least.

"Licenciado Limón" demonstrates the website up on the big screen

Lemon's pet scarab beetle "Trotsky"

The Flaura & the Fauna

As the weather becomes increasingly toasty, so it seems the quantity of insect life increases. A scorpion was mercilessly beaten to death with a can of Raid and flushed down the toilet with its tail still eerily throbbing it’s venomous tip. Some aggressive hornets decided to start building a nest over our balcony and Lemon was given the task of relocating it. Sadly however his cunning plan backfired and several hornets attacked him as he swung at them savagely with a broom. Although one managed to get trapped in between his glasses and his face, years of animal rights activism paid off and Lemon remained unstung.

Lemon pops

There is a quite a blur in our lives between work and private time. People knock on our door at all hours for advice, help with homework, requests to fix computers and once for photocopies (strangely as we don’t own a photocopier). Every night without exception we have a group of adorable small children calling for us to be entertained and although they often choose awkward moments we are mostly happy to oblige. They can be very useful for helping with art projects or recording twee messages to send to estranged family members. Sometimes we play the “see who can collect the most trash” competitions and they like to listen to Lemon’s songs and sing along which keeps his ego happy.

Lemonworld the band poses for a photo shoot (Clockwise from top Yenny, "Limón", José Alfredo and "Pelón"). The average age of the band is just 16!

Maybe the saddest of all Honduran images. A Horse you can rent for Capitalist endevors.

What's wrong with Honduras?

Warning – gross generalizations to follow. We seem to encounter the tribulations of Honduras on a daily basis although in most cases they are typical of all developing countries and often can be found worldwide. However, the problem of education in Honduras is a big one as it erodes away the very foundation of a potentially sophisticated and intelligent population. Some may argue that countries that think they have sophisticated and intelligent populations are sadly deluding themselves by the very fact of negligence and responsibility for those countries that do not. But responsibility has to start somewhere and the educational shortfalls in Honduras can be summed up in one word (sic) “The Rote System”. We have seen with our very own eyes actual Honduran textbooks that think that having a child write out a work thirty times is equal to that word being learned. There is no critical thinking or application of knowledge and this leads to two distinct results. 1. Hondurans learn and think only from set formats and methods and never deviate. 2. Hondurans are damn hot at copying anything you show them but cannot create anything themselves. Whether this contributes to a society that never questions the status quo (alas no revolution in Honduras is forthcoming in the near future) remains to be seen but luckily there are some happy exceptions. However, in terms of development Honduras is hopelessly stuck in the circle of aid and handouts that have their dependency in the whims of foreign governments and NGOs. Meanwhile, people like us attempting to buck the trend and create sustainable programs directly with the communities themselves run into some mighty big walls.

Please Belize me

¡Feliz Belize! Our welcome excursion to Belize was notable if only for the return leg with a rather dubious ferry operation. On the outward phase we had been transported in some luxury in a 30 foot cruiser with a roof and a toilet (a.k.a the “head” in nautical terms). No such sumptuousness on the way back to Honduras. First of all the regular service was cancelled due to Easter. It seems Belize is the only country in the world that celebrates the day between Jesus being crucified and resurrected (Entombed Saturday??), so after checking our options for traveling that day the only boat available was the government immigration vessel that was deporting nine Honduran women who had been caught working without the necessary documentation (tut tut). They were a colorful bunch, some covered in tattoos, others tweeking under the influences if chemical substances but all in good spirits despite the circumstances. We enjoyed their company immensely.

Getting away from it all. A tiny caye off the coast of Belize where a rastafarian lives with his dog.

Garífuna drumming (for women's ears only).

One look at the boat and one’s suspicions might have been aroused. It didn’t look like an international transportation vessel. It looked like something that might have trouble staying afloat in a boating lake. Reassuringly they handed out life jackets and stuffed us onboard around some curiously stacked cardboard boxes whose contents were never revealed. Captain Carlos assured us the boat was seaworthy for up to thirty passengers but there were only twenty-three of us and had seven others showed up it would have been interesting to see where they might have been placed.

We started off well enough, although the sea was what some might describe as “choppy”. After about ninety minutes of monotonous churning and bouncing across the water we anchored just off an idyllic island to “refuel”. The captain attempted to suck fuel from a plastic tank down a tube into the engine but ended up with a face full of gasoline. He was man enough to pretend it didn’t sting but from his red eyes and hacking throat you could tell it wasn’t good. If it had been me you can be sure I would have milked it for all it's worth, maybe even dramatically throwing myself into the ocean cscreaming and gagging for maximun attention and sympathy. But that's why I'm not the captain of an International charter boat.

Our biggest fan.

Cuerpo de paseo. Belizian Belikin beer and a nice sunset.

It must have impaired his ability to read his compass because as we headed for Honduras we could see beautiful beaches and sunbathing families and not the huge industrial port we were expecting. We flagged down a passing rowboat and discovered we were a few miles off course. If it was not enough to be lost, disaster then struck. The engine died. The captain started pulling the engine apart to diagnose the problem. Meanwhile the tide was sucking us towards shore where several excited locals were gathering to welcome us. Steve, the cyclist jumped overboard to try and stop us from running aground. The deported Hondurans seized the chance to encourage someone to take the wheel and steer us back to Belize. Finally the motor spluttered back to action and we gently puttered our way past huge ocean liners to the immigration shack.

This had thrown off our schedule and we had to make a mad dash via a bus and two taxis to get the last bus back to Zacapa. We arrived at the deserted bus depot quite flustered where a mechanic cheerfully informed us it had just pulled away but luckily we were able to run down a coupe of one-way streets and miraculously headed it off and made it back to Zacapa just 6 hours from when we left Belize which is really pretty outstanding going. However, the excitement was not over for the day. Although technically out of the frying pan we got home to the disturbing site of Zacapa ablaze! Fortunately not the town itself but the entire mountain of arable farmland into whose valley Zacapa is comfortably nested was glowing red with flames in the twilight. This had been preceded with a stunning ochre sky sunset as we had approached on the bus and a curious “fog” which has settled on the lake which of course later turned out to have been smoke.


Julia and Raul, our Garfuna guide in the steamy mosquito infested jungle, Monkey River, Belize.

Julia and some new friends, Tobacco
Caye, Belize seconds before the digital camera took a dip.

Everyone was watching the spectacle and offering insightful theories into what might have started it. Then as if by miracle (and I speak of someone who shunned the public screening here of the Passion of the Christ) a mighty electrical storm passed over dousing all. The power went out adding to the excitement and the crackling static in the air. The lightning was spectacular, flashes occurring almost every second with deafening thunder rumbling constantly. Afterwards there was fabulous radio reception. The next day we were proffered the wisdom from one town elder that snakes with exceptionally high positive energy charges passing through the region had attracted the storm (?!!!) to which I replied that someone could earn good money harnessing the power of those snakes.

Monkeys , manatees and mosquitos

Belize was pretty fascinating and I’d love to return. It was a fabulous mix of the Caribbean, Latin America, English colonialism, ancient Mayan culture, Creole and Garífuna (the descendants of slaves who populate the coast around Belize and Honduras). It was so clean and pristine and laid back. People rode bikes really slowly which is something you just don’t see much these days. Everyone was bubbling full of personality and even the kids were happy to talk to you without being sassy or shy.

Typical Belizian dwellings, Placencia.

Happy Easter—bathing in the "balnearios" an Easter tradition of bathing in the river as the weather turns insanely hot (and something to do with washing away sins and redemption I'm told)

Sadly Belize lacks a daily newspaper which is definitely one of my top ten requirements for really falling in love with a country but I shouldn’t rush to judgment because I really felt at home there. The ocean was as clear as tap water, the birds and fish sport myriad colors and there are monkeys in the steamy mosquito-ridden jungles. On the minus side I did manage to drop my digital camera into the ocean but that’s why I have insurance (I call it clumsy tax). Also there are insects of which I do not care to learn more about who feasted on my skin. Everything in Belize costs twice the price of the neighboring countries but the food is five times as good so there you go. They make nice fresh buns and spice up their veggies. They almost speak English there but only if they really try. Otherwise it seems tantalizingly close, perhaps you understand every fifth word or so. Between native Creole speakers it’s all completely incomprehensible and no subtitles are available.

Well, once again we must sign off. As always, keep in touch and don't let long emails and website intimidate you.

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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.