Faculty meetings, Honduras-style

Emergency shmergency.

So, earlier this week it rained in Honduras. Some peoples' homes got washed out...when the dam engineers upstream opened the gates without warning them first. Some other homes were washed out...because their inhabitants had been forced to live on the slopes and slums that get washed out in any big rain, because their lands (or their forefathers' lands) were confiscated by large agribusiness in collusion with the government and/or military. Is this a tragedy? Of course. Is this a National Emergency? Is it really that exceptional? Read your Agamben. Or if you wanna get pop culture about it, read Naomi Klein. Pepe Lobo, poor sap, seeking a unifying out of his current dilemmas—principal among them that whole pesky Zelaya issue—has grasped the emergency straw, y se la está mamando a toda fuerza. He canceled his trip to the Dominican Republic to visit Mel (phew! you can almost hear him sighing, got outta that!) and was all over the TV in the corner of the hole-in-the wall restaurant the other night when I was talking to the sweet old drunk and our waiter in Resistance.

I'm up at 5:30, with the roosters. But I went to bed at 8:30 last night, so it's not such a bad thing. I'm staying at the hacienda for a night or two, before continuing my travels, and although I feel I'm imposing a bit (the hacendados, though they couldn't be kinder or more generous to me, seem a little stressed out with their affairs), I love it. All the different birds singing form something of an orchestra, and the lack of internet, while preventing me from fact-checking, is an unquantifiable blessing. Freedom.

Yesterday at one, exactly when my cheapo hotel room (with wireless) expired, I finished my note and put it online. I threw everything in my backpack and trekked out to cross the park and drop it off. About half-way through the park I heard Adriana, Adriana, Adriana! I'm usually not so fast to turn when I hear my name here, since I assume it's not me they're looking for, but on the third repetition I turned around and saw el guapo. He offered to walk with me to Feliciana's café, and we talked a little more. He asked what I'd been up to, and I told him, just writing writing, writing. What was I writing about? Everything I saw, I said, realizing suddenly that the first thing on the top of my blog, where he was now certain to look, was about him. I'm changing names of people, I told him. And genders, and circumstances. Not to worry. (Did I protect him enough? Would the details give him away? Did I say things he didn't want me to? Shit.) I told him I was being much more careful now than I had been previously, given the situation (and I was careful previously)...but these processes just aren't covered in the IRB process. And don't get me started on that. It's a great challenge to work with people who are just as computer-literate as I am, or more so, who read English, who know more about what I'm writing than I do. Studying sideways, as a public anthropologist, presents a whole different set of challenges than studying down. The technology holds me so much more to account. And it's not some formulaic IRB protocol (even for an IRB made up of people I actually really like and appreciate, as in my case, and I'm not just saying that in case your reading) that inspires me to act ethically, it's the crushing weight of my conscience, that won't leave me alone for one bloody second. But neither the IRB nor my conscience can prevent me from fucking up.

But just to continue on that side note re:blogging, I think often about just how radically different things are today compared to when I first started coming here in 1997. There was no phone at the dig house where I stayed on after the archeologists left, cell phones were way less common, and my field notes mostly took the form of fax letters to someone I missed back home. I typed out on my heavy Mac laptop (circa 1990) and printed them on my portable printer, then walked every morning across Lima Vieja, over the rickety pedestrian bridge to cross the river into Lima Nueva where the IHAH office is. There, I would wait for Chuey, gregarious and kind, and his assistant, to run my fax through, and I'd pay them the cost. I recently discovered that Chuey was murdered a few years ago. I was sad about it, but the people who told me, who knew him better than I did, weren't surprised. Some shady drug business. In the following years internet cafes started springing up. I remember bringing Sabrina to an internet cafe in San Pedro and getting her online for the first time, probably in 1999 or 2000—she was chatting away in no time. Most of the draw of internet cafes in the early 2000s seemed to be the cheap skype precursors for talking to relatives in the States. That's not advertised so much today—I guess everyone got cell phone deals that allowed them to talk in "private" where only the Telecom and the military that owns it are listening. In 1999, I think it was, I shelled out for a beeper. I only finally caved in and got a cell here in '08, and almost immediately this time. Don Leo sent his driver with me to give them his information instead of mine, saying that even though they'd surely find me within a day or two (like they had found him), the least I could do was to make their job just a little bit more difficult.

So anyway. I walked with Pablo, who told me he was hoping to leave his current gig and go back to the career he'd studied for, but it was hard because with the economy and all, there just weren't any jobs in that sector. He waited for me at the café, where he seemed to know everyone ("aja muchacho, dónde te has escondido?" the women there asked him), and then walked with me to the bookstore in the mall, where I was to visit Ricardo, a social scientist friend I'm just getting to know from the university. Ricardo greeted me warmly, and although I had hoped Pablo would stay and get to know Ricardo since I knew they each admired each others' work, it occurred to me that they didn't know they admired each others' work because they each, to some degree, worked anonymously. That's what "security" culture has wrought. So I kept my mouth shut and stayed behind to talk with Ricardo. We had a great conversation about the so-called emergency, agreeing that all the hype was a ruse, just like Mitch, to further neoliberalize and/or "secure" the population. The ones who are really helping the affected are not those shouting with Pepe from the hills that the sky has fallen; it's the resistance, which has organized grassroots brigades to rescue people and their possessions, food aid, medicine, all the while using this "teachable moment" (not in the sense that Obama stupidly referred to the Gates affair and then proceeded to teach us that we should drink beer and forget that racism and racial profiling exists? Or was there a lesson I missed there?) to draw attention to the structural vulnerability that always makes "natural" disasters affect the poor so much more dramatically than the rich. This is especially true in the hilly capital, which is a vertical city, with all the wealthy living in Lomas de this or that—in the hills— and all the poor living in the lowlands, with all the smells, the trash, and the certainty that sooner or later they will be flooded.

Continuing our conversation about the real dangers in the country, Ricardo lowered his voice to a whisper, even though no one else was around, and spoke of the real danger: los narcos. That was when I realized that the phrase "elephant in the room" doesn't translate. Any time anyone here speaks about the power, the real power in the country, they speak in whispers. And given how truly central drug trafficking is to the story, it's fascinating how completely censored the topic is. Talking against the government, against the military, that might get you killed. But speaking up against the narcos? That will get you killed. Some of the recent dead journalists are evidence of that- not even for speaking out, just for poking around.

A young man sauntered in in an outfit that someone of his girth would not usually wear in the U.S.: A tight polo shirt, mid-length shorts, and sandals. He and Ricardo entered into an animated conversation about student elections, which are clearly more akin to student elections back in Cairo than they are to student elections in the U.S. "250,000 lempiras," Ricardo said, nodding at me to write it down, "250,000 lempiras" (around $15,000) was what San Pedro business leaders had spent on the student campaign. Gilberto, the young law student at the public university, related the drama to his former professor jokingly, telling how he'd been persecuted within the university by other Nacionalista FUD [right-wing student group] members for being against the coup, referring to the leaders as a mara. Ricardo laughed at this, qué bueno que les dices mara,—it's a good thing you call them a gang, because that's what they are. Ricardo called them la mara 28, the [June] 28 gang, playing off la mara 18. He added, as part of his ongoing mockery of Gilberto for staying with the National Party, "GolPepe fue parte de la mara 28. No cabes allí- ya vente pa'l otro lado." "CouPepe was part of the 28 gang. You don't fit in there- come over to the other side already." "Me retiré," Gilberto replied, referring to the FUD, "pero al retirarme he tenido más problemas por eso de que de las maras no se puede salir"—"I left but upon leaving I had more problems because as you know, you can never leave a gang." They all laughed at the comparison. His professors, aligned with the right-wing student group, had started failing him for ideology even though he'd been a straight-A student. "Deje de ser nacionalista muchacho," Ricardo chided him, "muchacho hay que renovar el pensamiento. "Boy, leave the National Party, you have to renew your thinking."

Ricardo, suddenly serious, advised Gilberto to drop out of the public university and enter a private school to finish his studies. He stressed their personal ties: Ricardo knew Gil's father, he had affection for the boy, he know he was a good student. "Esos tipos no se miden" he said—"these people will stop at nothing." They have links to the police, they'll kill you. "No siga el toro con barra corta"—Don't chase the bull with a short stick. "Usted está jugando con mafia papa, está jugando con fuego, de eso no sale vivo, déjelos"—"you're playing with a mafia kid, you're playing with fire, you won't get out of this alive, leave them." Ricardo explained then, to all those present (me, Gil, and another young man who had been sitting there), the violent history of university politics.

"En los 80 en los claustros nos amenazaban hasta con AKs, pero en los 90 el pleito fue entre ellos." "In the 80s in the faculty meetings [the right wing] would threaten us with AK-47s, but in the 90s the fight was among themselves. He told of a gunfight that took place inside the library of the university. One of the right wing professors told Ricardo and his group to leave, that shots would be fired, and the fight wasn't with the left (el pleito no es con ustedes). We ran out of there, Ricardo said, and just as they got to their cars they heard the shots. You can still see the bullet holes in the library.

Then, speaking to Gilberto, Ricardo said ¿Sabes como ganó Oswaldo? Desapareciendo estudiantes...Usted esta historia no la conoce. Usted no puede estudiar derecho puro sin estudiar la historia. "You know how Oswaldo won [in the 80s]? By disappearing students. You don't know this history." Gil nodded in agreement, smiling humbly, and Ricardo continued, "You can't study law without studying history." Gil said, agreeing with Ricardo that his side was ahistorical and ideologically driven, that the people he had worked with say that Pepe is on the left. Ricardo laughed heartily. "Pobrecitos. ¡Pobrecitos!" Gil noted that professors would pull their pistol out in class and put it on their podium theatrically at the beginning of class. Ricardo added, "salir de una reunión de profesores a las 9 de la noche da hasta pánico porque uno no sabe en qué momento van a sacar las pistolas y son profesores"—"leaving a faculty meeting at nine at night can give you a panic attack because you never know when they're going to take out their pistols and they're professors." He repeated this to me, they're professors, Adrienne, professors!

Later, I went back to the central park to see what the park resistance was up to. At one of the tables in front they were collecting signatures and fingerprints for the declaración soberana:

An energetic middle-aged man with a Che baseball cap rounded people up to sign:

One of the nurses came over, shouting my name. They were all there, still in their scrubs, just off work. You came to listen, I said, cupping my ear like she had the other day when telling me why she was going there. Exactly! she answered, laughing. La Chela came over and I ask what she had been up to. She told me "helping, always helping." She had just been talking to the hot dog vendor woman in the park (in resistance, of course), who was ill. She hadn't had time or money to get treatment for her condition, so La Chela was helping her figure out how to get the tests, treatment and medicine she needs.

Samuel Madrid appears, the nurses introduce us, and I realize I'd met him two months ago when he came to DC. He tells the nurses about the big event they're planning for Saturday. A party where they'll count the declaraciones, and they're bringing a big Mel. But they're will be a security problem, he mentions. Ah, the nurses say, the police will take the Mel away. No, he exclaims, not the police- we have to protect Mel from the resistance! The resistance will want to steal him- everyone's going to want to have a Mel in their house. They had bought some really big screws to secure the Mel, though, so it was taken care of. When I told Agustina and Pablo about this later at dinner they laughed, and she said that they should make a Melito for every home—in Mexico they would have done so long ago (like with the Zapatista dolls). It would be a huge business, selling little Mels. Pablo pointed out that a lot of people here would buy them to feed to their dogs...but even so, the money would go to the resistance.

I exchanged business cards with Samuel, and was writing down my phone number for him and the nurses, when I looked up and saw a short-haired man with shiny sunglasses and a starched, tucked in Hawaiian shirt standing in front of me. "Hola, Adriana," he said, and flashed his gold star tooth. I noticed the star was on one of the undercover cop's upper teeth—it had bothered me that after our last creepy interaction a couple days earlier, I couldn't remember that detail. "You're giving out phone numbers?" he asked. I mumbled something and quickly put the paper with my phone number on it away. No matter how stiff I was, no matter how strong my body language of disgust, no matter how many times I looked at my watch or looked to my nurse compañeras and grimaced, he seemed unphased. He talked at me about how well he knows the States, about all the different places he'd worked, California, Florida, Chicago, Alaska. He talked about a nephew born in the States, blah, blah, blah. I got increasingly nervous, continuing with the body language, to no avail. "Did you call me?" he asked, looking at his phone, "because someone called me and I didn't know the number and I thought maybe it was you."

Not finding a polite out, I cut in and told him I had to leave, to do, something. He said okay, shook my hand and walked off, and I said goodbye to the nurses and went off to meet the hacendados, who took me to the hacienda for the night, where after a delicious dinner I fell asleep almost immediately.

The next morning I almost stepped on a new friend, a chick without a name (doña Feliciana didn't name them until they got old enough for her to know they were going to survive, kind of like how Nancy describes mothers in el Alto not attaching until the danger has passed). Don Leo said I should be careful, that it would awaken dangerous instincts in me, but the only instinct that criminal cuteness reaffirmed was my burning desire for backyard chickens.



We drove into town, and I walked about, past yet another private security company. "The future is in your hands...your tranquility is in ours."

Back at the bookstore to buy the Poderes fácticos en Honduras book I'd been admiring the previous day and the Café Guancasco CD, I met another of Ricardo's students, Nestor, who was far to the revolutionary left of Gil. Nestor was fascinated that I was an anthropologist, and said that was what he wanted to study but there was only sociology here. He had lots of questions about anthropology. Was I a follower of Boas? Or did I identify with the British school? Where could he get my book? He later appeared at the same restaurant where I was getting a drink with Agustina and Pablo, who told me when he walked back to his table that Nestor was a ñangara. They said it with approval, Agustina describing to me, laughing, how she had said at a march where they were being attacked by the police that someone should smash a cop's windshield, but couldn't believe it when Nestor actually did it. There was a sense of general admiration for the youth.

After I left the bookstore I met up with Don Leo and Agustina for lunch. We went to a nice restaurant in the Zona Viva. Walking in, Leo announced he wanted to eat upstairs, which was empty and which the waiter said was closed. He insisted with the exaggerated confidence of the bourgeoisie, threatening to take his business (and, one would assume, that of his important friends) elsewhere. After a delicious and filling lunch, once outside, he explained to us, laughing, that upon entering, he had seen two grandes golpistas seated right at the first two tables. No way was he going to sit anywhere near them, knowing they'd be listening in on the conversation, and had to create a scandal to get his way (which of course he did).

Agustina then took me on the driving tour that was the subject of the previous entry's photo-essay. At its end, we parked downtown and walked to the centro, we saw the La Prensa stand, complete with a stencil I hadn't noticed before, "Hey! Servil carreta ponete la camiseta atte: ferrari" — "Hey! vendor servant, put on your [white] t-shirt, atte: Ferrari" (in rhyme)

We wandered around the park, waiting for Pablo, and I noticed the big red splat on the municipal building, which despite already being covered, is now protected by something like a dozen police at all times to prevent more graffiti.

...and Agustina point this Mel/Che stencil out to me in the little miniature-golf-style river in front of the palace. I was nervous about taking the picture with the cop right there, but she insisted I take it, and he did nothing.

We walk toward the front of the park. "Hola" says my undercover cop, suddenly in front of me again, appearing out of nowhere like he had the day before. Thankfully he sees me walking purposefully and doesn't try to corner me this time.

The resistentes continued gathering signatures.

I noticed that the seats were collective resistance chairs (see closeup below)

Across the street on the Cathedral fence was a sign left that morning from another vigil held in support of the striking judges (who lost their hunger strike bid for reintegration following their political firing that day)

The cooler used by the vendors in front of the park:

The old woman vendor with the red resistance baseball cap in the picture above (4 up) asked if she could see my magazine, and was so excited about it that I gave it to her, but took a picture first so I'd remember to get another copy.

Agustina and I were sitting on the stone fence when a pretty young chiclera came by asking if we had any makeup. No, I said, sorry. Foundation? she asked. No. Blush? No, sorry. Lipstick? I searched around in my bag, but didn't have that either. Was she having her picture taken? I asked, as she loosened her hair. Yes, she said, for her resistance ID, and she'd look plain without any makeup. I told her she was very pretty. Agustina said, how do you know that picture won't go to the golpista intelligence agency? Just then, a man came by and asked Agustina if she had already submitted her information for the carnet de resistencia. It wasn't for intelligence, he said, it was for the Frente. The form asked for all kinds of identifying information, including emergency contacts. "But my whole family is golpista!" she said. "I couldn't put them down."

Agustina started informally interviewing him, asking if he worked for a company, if he'd been with a union before, or what? He worked for himself. Why was he with the resistance, she asked. Por convicción—Out of conviction. "Los chafas y los chepos van a ver esa lista" ("the soldiers and cops are going to see that list"), she said to him, taking a copy of the sheet—not to fill it out, but because it set off warning bells. "Do you think they don't already know about us?" he asked her, unconcerned. "Imagine the depths we've reached," he said, "if we are willing to silence ourselves out of fear...Emigrar no es un delito, es un derecho humano [emigrating is not a crime, it's a human right]. Mel said that. And saying something like that makes you a guerrero, a terrorist, a ñangara."

We went over to the table, to see the ID preparation, where the pretty young chiclera was cutting up her pictures, which she'd had taken by one of the polaroid photographers who wander around the park for the not insignificant cost of 30 lempiras.

Samuel, who was directing the operation, showed us the text that was to go on the back of the card:

We demand in the name of our people that the authorities cease their repression and violation of human rights of the nation that has risen up in resistance.
The resistance is an act of conscience and not convenience.
We will resist peacefully and win.


Samuel showed us what the front would look like as well.

We asked him what was going to happen with all the information they were collecting. He told us it was going to be entered into a database that would be well protected. Agustina and I exchanged doubtful grimaces, and he reasserted that the database would be bien protegida.

Agustina told me about a surprise party she was organizing for a turco [her word] friend of hers [she had lots of turco friends from school and her social circle, she had told me earlier], and the obvious complications that arose. He was resistance, she said, but of course his whole social circle was golpistas. They had to invite people from both sides, but she was engineering it so that there would be more resistance there. I'm particularly interested in how people of Arab descent here who identify with the resistance negotiate all the inherent tensions between their identification as turco and their own identification with the movement, and asked for more details. She said she knew he was resistance because among other things, during the marches she was collecting donations and he gave what he could. He asked her first, however, what it was for. "Yo ando recogiendo Kotex," she told him. "I'm collecting menstrual pads." Which, in fact, she was. Women went out in the marches and forgot these things, she told me, saying that when she brought her large cache of pads and toilet paper to donate to the CDM (center for women's rights) for women marchers, there was already a huge pile of previously donated pads and tp in the office (they all got used up).

Later in the...[playing on the radio, "Rasta don't work for no CIA"...I'll get to this topic later today, insha'alla]...evening, at Cafe Pamplona on the central park, we had a drink with Pablo. I know the place well—it was a regular air-conditioned escape from the oppressive San Pedro heat on my previous visits. I have already described some of what happened there in the notes above. A young man came by at one point selling posters with biblical themes and cute animal or little girl pictures. Agustina asked: "Don't you have any with Che on them? Hay que tener para todo el público" she said, "you have to have something for everyone!" She asked him what he was selling it for and he said something about a center for drug addicts and gang members in Barrio Cabañas, at 8 calle and 10 avenida (she demanded specific details). It was an evangelical ministry of some gringo pastor named Norman Bens, or Bins, or Bing or something. As the young man walked away, she said, nodding in his direction, that she actually thought he would have had Che posters, because he had on a Bob Marley backpack.

Café Pamplona always makes me think of Hugo Maldonado, whom I used to run into there all the time. Hugo, the director of the San Pedro CODEH, once waved me out of the office for trying to file a complaint about the multiple murders of trans women (we suspected by police) on the basis that that wasn't a human rights issue, and that those people brought it upon themselves. I later found out he had raped one of the underage workers in the office, who herself had started working there after being the victim of human rights abuses at her job, which she was fired from after denouncing her employer. Traumatized, but not knowing what else to do, my young acquaintance had married her boyfriend, had sex with him so he would think the baby was his, and had the baby. Maldonado last year was accused by his own wife of spousal abuse, and lost a lot of credibility, but incredibly still directs the human rights office. Kind of like David Romero, the owner of Radio Globo who raped his own daughter for 10 years (and then said those horribly anti-Jewish things last year that did not at all reflect common sentiment within the resistance but which were used to discredit the whole movement). The feminists aren't kidding when they say they have a lot of work to do. One feminist in resistance friend asked rhetorically yesterday, Cómo vamos a refundar un país con una base de violacion a los derechos humanos?"—"How are we going to refound the country based on human rights violations?"...and then there's Custodio. What is up with these human rights people?

Speaking of Human Rights NGOs, WOLA is angling to salvage its destroyed credibility in Honduras by giving an award to the Human Rights Platform. The groups that make up the Plataforma are debating whether to accept the prize, which presumably would be accompanied by some money and a trip for some members to DC to get honored by a bunch of rich liberals with a cash bar.

Okay, so I know my new year's resolution for the past six years has been to start raising backyard chickens (so neoliberal-self-righteous-bourgeois-survivalist) and destroy capitalism, but next year I'm getting more specific. I mean, I feel like I'm making a little progress—I have a back yard at least, and capitalism seems like it's teetering (although I really can't claim any credit for that)—but I need a more practical goal. I resolve to resolve to bring down the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. I really can't do it on my own, so I'll be counting on your help.