Saturday, October 24, 2009

Honduras goes to the Mundial

Last week we experienced a very dramatic event in the history of Honduras. After the U.S. beat Honduras in soccer over the weekend, Honduras had to beat El Salvador, in San Salvador, and the U.S. had to beat or tie Costa Rica in order for Honduras to be one of the 32 teams that will participate in the World Cup in South Africa next summer. We watched the Honduras game on a big screen tv in a lively bar here in Santa Rosa. The U.S. game was also on a separate tv in typical sports bar set-up. When the U.S. gave up two early goals and fell behind, the atmosphere got pretty subdued. But Honduras played well enough and held on to a 1-0 lead. When the U.S. started playing better in the second half, things picked up considerably. The U.S. finally scored at about the 60 minute mark and then kept putting on the pressure. Finally in the last few seconds of the last minute of extra time, the U.S. scored the tying goal and things went abosulutely crazy. In the bar, everyone was jumping and screaming and throwing beer for about thirty minutes. That we had beaten Honduras and hurt their chances four days earlier was completely forgotten. All gringos were now very warmly embraced by everyone there for having made this miracle possible. For the first time in 28 years, and the seond time ever, Honduras was going to get to play in the largest sporting event in the world.

When we went outside, the celebration was just getting starting. Every car and truck in town was soon stuck in a massive traffic jam around the centro, full of cheering, happy people. For better than two hours, in this town on the far edge of the country, people yelled, honked and thanked us exuberantly. This same kind of response, or more so, apparently occurred everywhere in the country. The current president declared a national day of celebration for the next day, although no one seemed to take advantage of it except in Tegus, where they welcomed back the players. Everyone else seemed eager to go to work so they could talk about what had happened. It is still the main story in the newspapers, at least in the sports section, everyday.

Several days ago the Honduran educational channel asked a tele-poll question about what was the most important news event of the year. Winning the right to go to the World Cup beat the removal and ouster of the president by about 82% to 18% as the most significant event of the year thus far. That this political event, where the president was removed from the presidential residence in his pajamas and flown to Costa Rica by the military, and which has cost the country billions in frozen foreign assistance, resulted in the cancellation of all visas to the U.S. and other places, and ostracized Honduras from the world community, is a distant second to a football game only helps to explain the importance of football here. People are still quite happy about this event.

On the political front, it does not appear from the public news reports that the talks between the current admistration and the representatives of the former president are making much progress. There have been a few sporadic actions recently, such as the destruction of a large electric transmission tower in San Pedro Sula and a bomb in a bathroom at a Tegus mall (which is now off-limits for Peace Corps volunteers, although our group of newbies is still not permitted to travel overnight anyway). We still do not sense much overt tension in our location, but more people have recently been expressing some of their underlying apprehension. So far the campaigns are still going forward for the national election scheduled for the end of next month and everyone is waiting to see how that will come out.

We continue to meet people and to get some introductions into the programs that we will likely be working with and we have gotten some opportunities to take some interesting day trips in this area. Although our limited Spanish still makes much of our efforts feel like we are participating in take-your-child-to-work day, our counterparts seem to have more patience than we do and continue to accept the fact that we will need much more time before we are able to really do much that is productive in any professional manner. So it goes.

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