Sunday, August 23, 2009

Beauty and the Beast

Since arriving in Honduras six months ago, it has been hard to overlook the stark contrast between all of the splendor that the country has to offer and the ugliness that humans have created here. Some of my first memories of the country include walking down a beautiful road in the middle of the forest on the way to my host family’s house, gazing up at the beautiful green mountains and marveling at God’s great creation but then being appalled when looking at the ground and seeing that the road was lined with trash. Also, I have memories of sitting in a bus on the way to visit another volunteer and seeing a grandmother encouraging her grandchild to throw a plastic Coke bottle and Doritos bag out the window and then applauding when the child did it.

Honduras is well known for its flora and fauna from its rich tropical forests to its beautiful white and black sand beaches. It is less known for the trash lined roads, polluted rivers and lakes, and utter lack of respect for the environment. I imagine that much of the problem of pollution comes from the socio-economic status of the country, or better said, the majority of people here are more worried about where the next meal is coming from so that they can fill their family’s stomachs than they are about cleaning up a few pieces of trash on the ground. In addition, it is hard to keep a place clean when it is lacking trash pickup services, plumbing, and any sort of environmental laws. The people have to resort to burning trash (which is probably worse for the environment than leaving it on the ground), having wastewaters drain into rivers, and bathing and washing clothes and dishes in the same rivers. 

I have had many conversations with Hondurans about this and have gotten many answers. One person told me that having disposable plastic bottles and bags has been something that has come about recently. Before that, people were accustomed to eating fruit and throwing the pits or seeds out on the street and getting their Coke in a glass bottle that needed to be returned in order to get the deposit back. These glass bottles were then washed and reused. Now with the influx of sweet and salty snacks and drinks being wrapped in plastic there is more garbage being created and people’s habits of throwing things into the street have not changed. Others have told me that they can’t do anything about the problem because they lack the basic infrastructure to carry away garbage and sewage. They tell me that the government has apportioned funds to improve infrastructure but that things never get done because corrupt governors and mayors are stealing the money instead of using it for its original purpose. Other Peace Corps Volunteers that work in mayors’ offices have attested this.

Regardless of the causes, something needs to be done to solve the problem of pollution here in Honduras. I don’t know if I have the answer, but I get sick of seeing rivers that I can’t cool off in because they are too polluted or having to hold my breath as I pass a pile of burning plastic. I think that the problem could be solved by both a top-down and a bottom-up approach. The government needs to work on improving local infrastructure and the people of Honduras need more education on environmental protection. I admit that this is probably a long-term goal especially given that the government is in the middle of trying to resolve a coup d'état. Hopefully something will be done or is being done to solve the problem because Honduras has too much beauty to offer to be snubbed out by a pile of trash.

Don’t get me wrong, Honduras is still a picturesque country and I can’t even begin to count how many gorgeous vistas I have seen since I have been here and I have barely had an opportunity to see much of the country. I say this now because I am trying to recruit visitors to come see me. My first visitor has already scheduled her trip and she will be here for two weeks in September. No surprise that this first visitor will be Brooke and I am stoked to see her and do some traveling together. Hopefully she will return to the states telling stories of how awesome it is so that more people will come down. So, let me know when you all are coming so I can pencil you in to my busy schedule.

Below are a few pictures of the contrast that I described between beauty and beastie:

Beauty: My friend Ryan on I on a hike to the hot springs that are close to Ocotepeque.

Beast: This is a pila in my host family's house. This water is used to cook, clean, bath, brush teeth and wash dishes. The water comes from the rivers in the mountains and as you can see is pretty dirty and full of parasites. Needless to say, drinking is not recommended, but some people still do it.

Beauty: Picture of me up on a hill at sunset by my house. Contemplating life.

Beast: Pile of trash that I encountered while walking around. I see things like this on a daily basis.

Beauty: Waterfall about an hour from my site. I don't know why blogger doesn't want to show the whole thing.

I was going to add more pictures but my connection is slow. Hope everyone is well.