Walking the streets of Tegucigalpa is an activity that requires an appreciation for danger and an ability to find familiarity in the insane. Having one without the other is like eating peanut butter without the jelly-it will do, but the experience is just not the same.
The other day I was walking with no specific destination through the city. While taking it all in, a white van, traveling at a high rate of speed came within six inches of running me over. A bit perplexed and thinking “that was close,” I crossed the road and headed toward central park.
I came upon a bookstore and decided to stop in and check out the titles. I did not make it more than ten feet before I spotted some postcards. With fumbling Spanish, I was able to buy eight of them. I patted myself on the back, saying “good job. You came out of that relatively unscathed.”
Forgetting my original intent of going into the store, I stepped confidently back into the street and almost knocked over an elderly woman carrying a package on her head. She kept walking as if nothing had happened. So I did too.
I made it to central park and noticed a congregation on the other side of the patk, opposite the cathedral, which dominates the plaza.
Getting closer, I realized it was a human rights rally. I found this to be fascinating, being that such a thing just 10-15 years ago would not have occurred in Honduras. Or, if it did, the participants may have been arrested, jailed and possibly never seen again.
The democratic metamorphosis was occurring before me.
However, I quickly noticed the scattered, but well-armed, military and police personnel standing around the area. I made a quick exit.
As soon as I turned around, street vendors bombarded me. I could have bought a watch of any name brand or a “North American” toothbrush. (What is a North American toothbrush? Does it perform better? Does saying this really increase sales?)
Not wanting to be ignorant, or perhaps arrogant, I decided not to propose my questions to the ladies. I moved on and continued my late-afternoon jaunt.
Coming out the bakery, sweet bread in hand, I could not believe what I saw. A boy, about 4 years old and half naked. squatted down next to a bench and relieved himself of a bad case of diarrhea. He had to go. There was no waiting.
At first, amusedly, I thought maybe it was a hallucination. But the stench quickly made the sight quite real. I decided to head back.
I began to walk in the direction of the bus stop when I noticed a market on the other side of the street. I had to see it. So again, I jumped into traffic, dodged a few cars, stood in the middle of the road and crossed when it was clear.
Inside the market was the unmistakable smell of slaughtered flesh. Slabs of meat and pork hung openly in the warm, squalid air. Vegetable and fruit stands were abundant.
I had to buy something. There was no way I was leaving without trying to interact with the locals. I took the easy way out, though. I bought three bananas.
Content with the day’s explorations, I stood at the market exit and looked up the street towards where I had to catch the bus. I then looked at the three bananas in my left hand. I began to laugh.
“Here I am in Tegucigalpa, three bananas and a 20 minute walk from the bus that will take me to a place that serves as my home,” I thought. “This is crazy!”
(written September 1997)