Tag Archives: Safety

The world game (Part two)

19 Jun

“After all, is football a game or a religion?”

~ Howard Cosell

The game was scheduled for 7pm, but the gates opened at 1pm. We arrived at 4.30pm and I was amazed at the number of people already in the stadium.

At full capacity el Estadio Nacional can hold 38,000. It didn’t end up being a sold-out match but the crowds were still impressive. Everywhere you looked there was a sea of blue and white (the Honduran team colours).

Blue & white

And the noise! The game didn’t start for another two and a half hours, but already the crowd was yelling and cheering, blowing horns and banging cardboard. The cacophony was overwhelming.

It’s a little shaky, but I recorded about 30 seconds of footage, which will give you an idea of what it sounded like.

For the entire lead-up to kick off the guys in front of us stood, chatting and cheering and drinking beer. I was a bit worried this would be my view for the whole game:

image

Fortunately they sat down once the game started, and only stood up when there were goals or close calls.

And the only goals to be seen were ours! Honduras won 2-0! Woot.

The atmosphere in the stadium was electric, but when Honduras scored a goal it was like 10,000 volts had been sent through the crowd. Everyone jumped to their feet, yelling, screaming, hugging and throwing full cups of beer in the air.

Full cups of beer and full cups of urine too, apparently. Eww!

My friend had warned me earlier there was only one set of bathrooms at the stadium. They would most likely be in an appalling state, so it was best not to drink too much and avoid using them.

Others who want to drink, but also don’t want to use the bathrooms, pee in their empty cups. I’m not 100 per cent sure how one achieves such a feat discretely, surrounded by nearly 38,000 people, but apparently it’s a ‘thing’.

All the amber liquid flying through the air after a goal is scored isn’t necessarily beer or Mountain Dew.

Luckily, not a single drop landed on me so I didn’t have to worry about the unidentified flying liquids. My only moment of worry was when a fight nearly broke out between two men in the rows in front of us.

About 10 police officers with massive batons pushed their way down to the arguing spectators, directly in front of our seats. There was a very tense stand-off, but after a few nerve-wracking minutes the situation was diffused and everyone went back to observing the game.

Watching it all unfold was quite frightening, and I was very relieved when it blew over. I’m not sure what the confrontation was about. It was between two Honduran supporters so wasn’t team rivalry boiling over.

I think I counted a total of five Jamaica supporters in the entire stadium. If I were them I would have been very intimidated, although the police presence, as promised, was massive.

They were spaced out about a metre apart across the top and bottom rows of the estadio. Earlier on they also marched a lap around the soccer field in what I assume was a show of force.

At the end of the game the police, in full riot gear, lined up to make sure the players were able to exit without being mobbed. Although considering there was razor wire on top of the fences separating the seats from the field, it would be difficult for a spectator to cross the barrier.

All in all it was a very exciting afternoon. Honduras’ win meant the crowds leaving the stadium were elated and I was thrilled to survive my trip to the big bad Estadio Nacional with no major incidents.

¡¡Vamos Honduras¡¡

Ticket

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The world game (Part one)

19 Jun

“¡¡Un país, una pasión y cinco estrellas en mi corazón!!”

~ From the Selección Nacional de Honduras Facebook page

Hondurans take their fútbol seriously. Very seriously. As you might be aware, we’re in the midst of World Cup qualifying matches at the moment and things are getting pretty tense.

Last night, Honduras lost against Los Estados Unidos. Their next game won’t be until September, when they will face Mexico.

My football knowledge is pretty shaky, but my understanding is they’ll need to win or at least tie the rest of their matches keep their World Cup hopes alive.

The first World Cup qualifier game I watched here (on the big screen) was Honduras v Mexico. I had only just arrived in the country so felt a little torn about who to cheer for.

My host-mum solved my dilemma by gifting me a Selección Nacional de Honduras t-shirt.

Honduras t-shirt

The end result was a 2-2 draw, reflecting my divided loyalties nicely.

Next we played and lost against Panama followed by a loss to Costa Rica. And last week it was do or die against Jamaica.

This game was to be played in el Estadio Nacional here in Tegus. A friend invited me to watch the match with him and I quickly agreed to go.

The expression on my host-mum’s face when I casually mentioned I was going to see the match live was priceless.

Unbeknownst to me the stadium doesn’t have the best reputation. In fact, it’s considered quite insecure and on occasions downright dangerous.

Our housekeeper told me yesterday that if it had been up to her she would have forbidden me to go!

My host-mum’s concerns spooked me a little but my friend assured me there’d be a large police presence (which to me wasn’t necessarily reassuring) and advised me we had tickets in one of the safer areas.

Honduras isn’t necessarily the best country to implement a YOLO attitude to life, but with tickets already purchased and my curiosity piqued (just how bad could it be?) I decided I’d probably regret not going more than going.

Probably…

Hopefully…

(To be continued…)

The photos in my mind

24 May

“A picture is a poem without words.”

~ Horace

There’s been many a time I’ve found myself wistfully longing to use my camera here in Honduras. I’ve come across many interesting and fascinating sights, even in poor old ‘dreary’ Tegus. 

However it’s often not safe for me to take out a camera, and it’s never wise to use your cel phone in public, even if it’s only to snap a quick photo. Mobile phones are thief-magnets and being robbed is not on my ‘to do’ list.

CameraIn any case, I’m rarely out on the streets. Most of the sights I see are from inside my host-mum’s car or during the taxi ride to and from work. There have been countless perfect photo opportunities that have flashed past me in a blur.

One of the few times I’ve actually been on foot in Tegus was when I visited a marginalised barrio with TECHO. Despite being in one of the poorest areas in town I actually felt quite safe.

I had my camera with me, but it felt wrong to be strolling around taking photos. We weren’t there to play tourist, we were there to help. So once again I kept my camera in my bag.

I wish the photos in my mind would always remain as clear as they are now. A picture paints a thousand words after all. It seems a shame they will slowly fade with time, but I guess it can’t be helped.

UNICEF Honduras recently published a photo book, Retratos de Vida: Niños, niñas, adolescentes y mujeres de Tegucigalpa (Life Portraits: Children, adolescents and women of Tegucigalpa). It contains images of Tegus that are both beautiful and saddening.

The book’s aim is to raise awareness of the living conditions that stop these women and children from living a violence-free life. It’s well worth a look.

It also includes many sights similar to what I’ve personally seen, but haven’t been able to document photographically myself.

Tener siempre algo para dar

17 Mar

Keep Calm

My AFS guarantee pack, sent to me before I left Australia, contained all the information a prospective exchange student or volunteer abroad participant would need to know about living and working in Honduras.

The ‘Community Service Program’ document was 22 pages long and contained general information about Honduras, volunteer work, the country’s culture and customs, living with a host family, AFS rules and costs. Another document, titled ‘Safety Manual’ was 28 pages long.

When the document covering safety and security is longer than the document covering the entire program, you can safely assure Toto that you’re not gonna be in Kansas any more.

During my AFS orientation weekend we received a presentation on safety and on my first day at UNICEF I received a briefing from UN security. Both talks were actually quite good at striking the balance between reassuring us that it is possible to live here happily and safely and explaining that the risks are real and we need to take them seriously.

All the advice resolves around reducing risks. Don’t take public transport. Don’t go out at night. Keep a low profile. Be aware of your surroundings. Try to avoid travelling on your own, particularly if you’re a woman. Don’t carry valuables with you.

And if you’re robbed, hand everything over quickly and without discussion. Do not argue. My UN briefing had the following in all capital letters: NUNCA RESISTIR. (Never resist.)

A family friend’s son was walking their dog a few weeks ago when he was accosted by two youths who jumped off a motorbike and demanded his phone.

We’re not sure whether he said something they didn’t like or wasn’t quick enough with handing over the phone, but to show their displeasure they shot the family pet in the head.

The poor boy was traumatised, but the reality is, he was lucky. It could have been much worse.

The other bit of advice that’s been repeated to me several times is to always carry something to give the thieves. There have been cases where people have been shot simply for not having enough on them to satisfy their assailant.

If I’m out and about I always make sure I’ve got some cash on me, just in case. It seems a little paranoid, but here in Tegus the phrase, “it’s better to be safe than sorry” has taken on a whole new meaning. It certainly makes me appreciate how easy and free things are back home.

More hard core than the Peace Corps?

21 Sep

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”

~ Clifton Fadiman

As you may have noticed, when researching Honduras one of the ‘fun facts’ I discovered was that in January of this year the US Peace Corps pulled out all of its volunteers from Honduras due to safety and security concerns.

My main worry about this is that the withdrawal of 158 volunteers has seriously depleted the ‘potential husbands’ pool in Honduras. My grand plan of meeting and falling wildly in love with a dashing fellow volunteer may now have much lower odds!

On a more serious note, before you all start panicking, you can trust in the fact that AFS would not send me anywhere that was too dangerous. The organisation has an excellent safety and risk management system. Worry warts can read more about it here.

The Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website currently recommends that travellers exercise a high degree of caution, which is the second lowest out of four levels.

Not that I’m downplaying the risks here. Honduras can be considered a dangerous country and I will need to be extra vigilant about my personal safety while I’m over there. Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are known as the Northern Triangle, which is recognized as one of the most violent regions in the world.

Honduras is currently facing many socio-political issues such as extreme poverty, gang violence, high crime levels, the illicit drugs trade, corruption, limited health resources and high rates of disease. Just to name a few.

When reading about the Peace Corps’ decision to withdraw from Honduras I did find it a bit comforting to note that there wasn’t a particular incident that had caused the review. I did a bit more digging and read on a couple of PCV blogs that the majority of the volunteers were considered safe in their assigned locations, but it was travelling to other areas within the country that was causing the most concern.

All that being said though, I’ve decided to find and enroll in a self defence course before I leave. I’ve done one before, but I think it will be good to get a refresh before I head over there.

And speaking of refreshes, it’s probably time to update my first-aid qualifications too. Watch this space.