I listen to a US news podcast every morning, partially to stay in touch with what’s going on at home and partially because there’s nothing like a little early morning rage at the state of US politics to get the blood pumping. On the drive to school, I usually end up translating/ranting to my fiancé about what’s going on in the US and telling him about any of the big news stories. My fiancé was born and raised in Honduras and the furthest he’s ever travelled is to Guatemala. We often get into conversations about how politics work in the US or racism that bring our very different cultural backgrounds into stark focus.
One morning I was listening to the news and I stopped to explain to my fiancé about the recent earthquake in Iraq and Iran. When I told him about the earthquake, he said, “I’m not judging them, but don’t you think that maybe those people are getting back what they put into the world?” I turned and stared at him, my face questioning. “You know, for all the bombs and shootings and stuff?” he continued. He was talking about ISIS. For him, those two entire countries with thousands and thousands of people have become the equivalent to a terrorist organization. Why? Because that’s what he sees in the news.
When you look up Honduras in the news, you see either stories about soccer or reports about violence, drugs, and gangs. You see headlines about the “murder capital of the world” or “most dangerous countries.” Does this accurately reflect the lives of the majority of people in this country? Does it reflect the past 3 years I have spent here?
In the car, I explained to my fiancé that the people affected by the earthquake are just normal people, families trying to live their lives. I said to him that the same way the news about drugs and gangs in Honduras doesn’t describe his life or his family, ISIS does not define entire countries or religions or races.
No matter where you are in the world, most people want the same thing. They want to be able to keep their children safe, give them education, and have food on the table. I have found this to be universally true. Whether in Japan or Australia or Honduras, people just want their families safe and well fed, and for their children to have better futures than they had. Hondurans are no different. They struggle with poverty and lack of education. But in the same way a news report about ISIS doesn’t represent anything more than a small terrorist organization, a news report about gang violence in Honduras doesn’t represent the lives of the majority of people here.
In my three years in Honduras I’ve heard a lot of things concerning the news about this country. I’ve heard from friends that they never want to come visit me. I’ve heard from potential volunteers that they’re scared or worried about safety. I’ve talked to Hondurans who lament the fact that all you can ever read about Honduras is bad news. What I’ve never heard from anyone who has taken the time to come here and understand this place is “Everything I read was true.” I don’t know a single volunteer who has left Honduras talking about how dangerous it was. Volunteers leave talking about the openness of the people, the amazing kids they met, the food, and the natural beauty of the country.
It’s hard to live somewhere that is labeled as one specific thing. Most countries are known for several things, but Honduras, if it is known at all, is known for danger. There is so much to this country that remains beneath the surface: the rich culture, the incredible natural beauty, the generosity of the people, and the joyful spirit that is palpable at any Honduran gathering. There is joy here that is impossible to see from the outside looking in. It’s easy to label Honduras as one giant gang war. It’s harder to immerse yourself in a country and see what’s underneath, but in my experience, it is worth the effort.