Thursday, May 30, 2013

Love hurts
Something I hadn't anticipated happening quite so quickly in this new international life was feeling passionate about Honduras. 
   Oh, it sounds like a good thing. Doesn't the world need more people who arrive in a strange land and really connect?
   But what it actually means is that I now feel invested in the future of the country. I'm not just thinking warm thoughts about Hondurans and hoping things work out. I'm worrying about the place.
  Again, that probably sounds OK on the surface. Honduras certainly needs more people to worry about its future. The trouble is, I feel like I'm worrying more than Hondurans are. And THAT is a bad thing.
    When I was working with sex workers in Victoria, I learned through hard experience that this is called "wanting more for someone than they want for themselves." It tended to happen as I got to know some of the clients a little better and became attached. I would see such potential in them, and would end up trying to solve their problems for them or spending too much time coming up with strategies that might improve their situation. 
   And if someone's right there with you, ready for all the things you want them to be ready for - hey, it's pretty great to have somebody on your side. But it's not healthy for either party when one person wants more than the other person is ready for. 
   In the case of Honduras, this state manifests for me as near-unbearable frustration.
   Now when I pass a line of people all selling exactly the same things, I'm no longer reaching for my camera to capture the charming scene. I'm stifling an urge to regale them with marketing ideas that might help them distinguish themselves and their products, or lecture them about the futility of trying to make a decent living  when the only thing you've got for sale is the same thing that everyone else has. 
    I observe my co-workers reporting out on their projects and find myself wanting to shriek, "No! No! We have to do more than just count the number of gardens we planted, the number of people who took a course on holding government accountable! This country needs real change!"  
    I continue to listen with interest and sympathy to people's sad stories about villages without water, without road access, where the forests are being lost and the animals are getting sick - villages where children are doomed to spend their lives on the brink of severe malnutrition and in the same poverty that their parents and grandparents struggle with. But more and more I have to swallow hard to avoid crying out, "Run, you people! Can't you see there's no future here?"
   I'm sure there have been many books written on this phenonmenon, where the gringos show up and set about trying to change everything in ways that conform to their own view of a "good life." From such world views have come truly horrible things: Residential schools; colonization; forced assimilation; broken cultures.
    So until Hondurans are demanding these kinds of change, it's really none of my business. If Hondurans are happy enough living hard, short lives existing on beans, tortillas and shockingly small incomes, who am I to want more for them? If people want to leave it to God to sort things out rather than start a revolution, why should that matter to me? If generations of Honduran children never reach their full potential because they're underfed, under-educated, deprived of opportunity and trapped in tiny, isolated villages, is that my problem?
   But what I'm saying is that once you feel passion for a country, it starts to feel like your problem. It gets harder to contrast life in your country with theirs and just shrug it all off as cultural differences. I look at the children of my co-workers and feel enormous sadness that they are being short-changed in every way, and that their families most likely don't even know it because that has been their life, too. 
   In my time with the sex workers, I learned to have patience. I learned to just shut up and wait, to align myself with the ones who were ready and leave the other ones be.
 But it never got any easier. I got better at hiding my feelings, but I never got past them. Honduras, I'm ready when you are. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fun with OECD indicators

Hours of fun to be had with this cool graphic from the Organization for Economic Development. The OECD has put together a comparison of 36 countries based on 11 indicators associated with a better life, and a person could pass a lot of time clicking around the site and watching all the pretty flowers move up and down the scale of liveability.
The indicators used by the OECD include housing, income, jobs, civic engagement, health, security and such - standard fare when talking about a country's liveability, but much easier to grasp in this highly visual presentation as opposed to the long lists of numbers that other reports tend to give you.
Once you get finished with increasing and decreasing the indicators to see what happens to the "flowers," click on individual countries for loads more information, from the rich-poor gap to how their children are scoring on international tests. You can compare two countries as well.
 Fascinating to contemplate the differences in personal satisfaction between the countries - like, for instance, why Portugal is way out in front of Mexico in all the indicators for a good life, yet Mexicans report being eight times more satisfied with their lives. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Gone to the dogs

   One of the best and worst things about life in Copan Ruinas is all the dogs that roam the streets.
   What's bad is that many of them are sick and starving, and at endless risk of being the next victims of the municipally organized purges that are organized every once in a while to "control" the stray-dog situation.
   What's good is that a dog lover can gain a whole lot of new friends just by putting out bowls of dog food and water on a regular basis. I love the many dogs that pass by our house every morning now for a snack and some affection. It's not easy to make human friends in a foreign land, but the dogs are always happy to see a new soft touch in town.
   Thought my dog-crazy friends might enjoy a pictorial post featuring the 10 dogs that regularly visit our house. I'm pretty sure all of them have owners, and I've included the names of those we know. The others probably have names, too, but for the most part I've adopted my spouse's habit of just calling them by whatever descriptive phrase brings that dog to mind. Hope you like my pack.

Coquetta. That's her real name. She lives about half a block away from us, and is at our house so often that we tend to think of her as "our" dog. That said, Paul got mad at me this morning when he got up earlier than me and discovered her sleeping on the couch. She's not supposed to stay over, but I'd gotten up in the night and let her in rather than leave her in the rain. Come on, Paul.

Egel. That's his real name, too. He lives in the same house as Coquetta and is her best buddy. She usually arrives with Egel early in the morning - he can't squeeze through the patio gate but he waits patiently outside the front door for us to bring him some food. He is a completely lovely dog, and virtually all the women I know who have met him have been completely smitten.

Luna. This poor dog was scalded with boiling water at some point when a restaurant owner up the street was throwing out a potful of water (hopefully without the intent of hitting Luna). That's why she's got those black, hairless strips - they're the scar tissue. She is so skittery as a result that no one can get anywhere near her. We just put out her food and let her be.

Ossito, which is Spanish for "teddy bear." He's one of four pups Coquetta had earlier this year, and lives in the same house (5 dogs in total). We've just started to see him coming around with the other dogs for the morning feed. I don't know if that's a good development, but damn, he's cute.

And here's...Ossito. Yup, two teddy bears. This fellow lives on the other side of us and is in fact quite a pampered pet, but he still comes by to look for any bits of dog food the other dogs missed. He also appreciates the bowl of water, as even people who love their dogs here appear to forget the basics fairly often.

We call this one Shepherd Dog. She's got a name but I can never remember it. She lives in the same house with Coquetta, Egel, etc., but we don't see her too often. She'll let you pet her but isn't particularly interested in people. She looks like she's had a lot of puppies in her day. You don't want to think about the life expectancy of a Copan puppy.

Black Stink Dog and her daughter Crazy Pup. Black Stink got her name because she'd recently had a litter of puppies and was bone-thin when we first met her, and stunk ferociously. Crazy Pup, who just might be the progeny of Egel, is a sweet but excitable dog who would happily knock the dog-food bag out of your hand and eat every scrap if given the option.

Brindl Dog - another female who has clearly had way too many litters. Interesting fact: There is NO veterinarian in Copan Ruinas, or in any community closer than 3 hours away. Nobody does spaying or neutering. Brindl Dog is too big to fit through those little arches at the bottom of the gate, so she just shows up and waits to be noticed. In the dog hierarchy, she can only be fed if Egel and Black Stink are nowhere in sight, because otherwise they'll chase her off. She's sweet-natured but timid. So many of the dogs are used to being hit that they cringe when you reach out to pat them. Very sad.

Sausage Dog. She's round and fat from her happy days spent  outside the fried-chicken store over on the next block. I'm sure she must get loads of good food. So she doesn't really need to be lured by me over to our house for some dog food, but she's very nice to pet and has the loveliest grin, which sucks me in every time when I walk past the chicken place on my way home.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Face first into the culture

We spent a lot of time talking about culture in the Cuso International training we took in Canada before moving to Honduras last year. The course facilitators cautioned us repeatedly that real cultural differences go much deeper than the clothing styles, language, food and general habits of a country that a foreigner first notices.
They were right. It’s the “soft culture” stuff you have to watch out for – the things you tend not to see until they trip you up.
For instance, I now recognize that I’m much too direct in my interactions with people here. I give people a quick hello and then bam, I'm on to whatever topic I'm there for. It wasn’t a problem in the early months when my Spanish skills were in their infancy, but it’s becoming more of an issue now that I can actually talk.
Cuso did alert us to the cultural differences around conversation, blunt talkers not being the general rule in countries like Honduras. Still, it’s tough to curb that instinct.
Hondurans will spend a good 10 minutes of gentle warm-up with somebody before they get to the point: how's the kids; boy, it's been hot this past week; are those chilies you've got planted over there? If you’ve come to their house to talk business, expect to pull up a chair on the porch, drink a big glass of horchata, and wait and wait before anyone gets around to the real reason for the visit. Even the emails down here start with a couple of paragraphs of abrazos (hugs) and blessings from God before they cut to the chase.
Then there’s shop culture. In the small stores especially, people don’t really line up to pay for their things. It’s more of a horizontal exercise, with everyone standing along the counter in an unclear order waiting for the clerk to give them a signal that it’s their turn. None of the customers ever shows so much as a hint of impatience while experiencing this.
At first I stood back at a respectful distance, fearful of looking like the big, pushy gringa demanding service first. But you can stand there a long time if you don’t get at least a little pushy. Now I make an effort to inch closer to the counter as I wait, and have taken up the habit of my fellow customers of having money clearly evident in my hand. It seems to help.
The other day when I was at a drug store buying hair product, the clerk fetched a co-worker from the other side of the store and they proceeded to have an intense conversation with each other about how the other young woman got her hair so shiny and smooth.
At first I was baffled, and slightly irritated that the clerk had chosen to get into a personal conversation before she rang through my sale. But then it dawned on me that the exchange was for my benefit. They were making suggestions to me, in their indirect way, about products I might want to try to get the same luxe hair as the other girl.
I admit, the indirectness is one of the parts of Honduras culture that I like the least. No big deal when it manifests as two young women dropping hints about hair products, but it’s a real irritant when you’re trying to resolve a problem.
 Rather than just give it to you straight and risk that you won’t like what you hear, people will say whatever they think will make you go away happy. But the third or fourth time that happens and the problem is still no nearer to being resolved, let me tell you, you’re no longer going away happy.
I’ve learned to quit asking people for directions, or what time the parade starts, or where the meeting’s going to be. It seems they can’t bring themselves to tell you that they don’t have a clue. So they just make something up.
One night in Santa Rosa de Copan, we wandered for almost an hour on the advice of six different locals we asked for help, looking for a restaurant that turned out to be two minutes away from our hotel. I’ve had similar experiences when I’ve asked about which bus to catch, or when the next one was leaving. Or from where.
But hey, so we get lost once in a while. So we experience occasional bouts of unbearable frustration trying to resolve a customer-service problem that is never, ever going to get resolved. I like the place, and in fact am starting to feel the cultural disconnect more now when I’m back in the impersonal, insulated and harried culture of my own land.
I like that people want to talk here. I’m even getting better at not glancing around nervously during our conversations to see what time it is and whether I’m late, because I’ve now been here long enough to know that whoever I’m rushing off to see will almost certainly show up later than me anyway. I like the ritual of greeting every person I walk past.
And sometimes, the fellow from the Copan Ruinas post office runs out into the street as my spouse or I are passing by to tell us that we’ve got mail. Now there’s a cultural difference I could get used to.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The tenacity of hope

Spending every Sunday for more than a year now with a ragtag group of kids from deprived, troubled childhoods has turned out to be a surprisingly heartening experience.
The kids at Angelitos Felices foster home were like little cyphers to me when I first started volunteering there last April. Their squeaky little voices were impossible for me to understand in those early days of learning Spanish, and I also found it hard to see past the overwhelming grimness of where they were living to even consider getting to know them as individuals and not just tragic cases of societal neglect.
But time passes, and now we talk a lot: About painful teeth; how to use a tampon; why you can't wear your brother's shoes when he's got foot fungus; why you shouldn't toss garbage on the ground. We talk about all the things they want and need, from new shoes or a belt to hold up their pants to sno-cones, big wedge-soled flip flops just like mine, a bracelet, a wind-up car, a collared shirt sporting their school logo, green mangos stolen from a neighbour's big tree.
We talk about the scantily clad women who work the cantinas that we pass by on our twice-monthly walk to the pool. The man with no legs. The drunks in the square. There has even been a couple of carefully worded conversations about birth control with some of the older girls, and some equally careful talk about their disappointment at being left to grow up without parents at Angelitos.
All of it has served to remind me of how much we have in common with each other regardless of how different the circumstances of our lives. These kids' childhoods look nothing like those of my own children's in terms of creature comforts, decent schools, free health care, good food and fun. And yet the things that preoccupy them, thrill them, puzzle them and keep them moving forward are so similar.
When I first got involved at Angelitos, it felt almost like palliative care. I didn't think anything I could do would actually change the future for the 25 children who live there, but that I ought to try nonetheless to make things more comfortable for them in the time I was here.
But now that I've had time to get to know them, I see how capable they really are, and that we're each bringing something to this partnership we've developed. They are survivors: Much healthier than you'd ever expect given the near-complete absence of medical or preventive care; as tenacious and optimistic as Tigger when it comes to bouncing back from endless disappointments. They're a remarkable group of kids.
No need to get all Pollyanna about any of this, mind you. They're still almost certainly heading into hard lives of profound poverty, and I worry constantly about the older girls ending up pregnant and the older boys being lured into the dangerous world of gangs and low-level drug trafficking. The rainy season will be starting any day now, launching months of impetigo, fungus and staph infections that will spread like an Australian bush fire through the place. At least four of the kids have significant developmental disabilities, and all the charming, cheerful attributes in the world won't keep them on their feet in a country without social supports.
But still, the longer I'm around the children, the more hope I feel. They've got way more strength and purpose than I gave them credit for initially. I see that there are things I can do in these two years that - while falling well short of miracles - will build on the inner resources they already have and leave them in better shape for the journey that lies ahead.
The 13-year-old with rock-bottom self-esteem and developmental problems, for instance. I couldn't have known when we started our pool visits that she'd turn out to have a knack for swimming, or that she'd learn faster than any of the other kids. But that's what happened, and I see the impact it has had on her every time I catch her blissed-out face as she swims (and swims and swims) in the deep end of the pool.
The eight-year-old known for breaking things in fits of anger. He's not a bad kid at all, just a frustrated one who's so eager to please that any concrete, well-explained task turns him into a conscientous, thorough "worker."
The nine-year-old who tends to get excluded from fun activities as punishment for acting out. She's just an independent thinker who hates being ordered to do things without any explanation as to why. It's not in her nature to go along, but now she understands that a little going along keeps everyone happy and gets her out of Angelitos more often.
The boy on the edge of puberty, the one I fear for the most in terms of gang involvement. Something as simple as a hug, or a thrill ride at the carnival that gets him laughing like crazy, takes that hint of menace right out of his eyes and returns him to the little boy he still is. It took him longer than the other kids to learn to swim, but you can see the sweet victory in his eyes now that he, too, can manage the deep end of the pool.
Plant seeds, they always tell you in social justice work. The metaphor makes me crazy, because my nature is to want a whole new garden. But a year passes, and I see these little sprouts thriving. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What's it going to take to set things right?

The latest stats are in around poverty in Honduras, and as profoundly discouraging as ever. Almost two million people - a quarter of the population - are living on the equivalent of a buck a day, and another 2.5 million aren't doing much better. Another 1.6 million are living in relative poverty
Contrast that against the amount of aid that has poured into the country in the last decade, and you can't help but wonder what it all means. The U.S. alone has spent $836 million in grants and aid to Honduras since 2003, and hundreds of European and Asian organizations and governments have sent major money into the country as well.
And yet here the country sits, dirt poor and falling in the international rankings even while other Latin American countries are on the way up. The situation is even more desperate in the rural areas, where as many as eight in 10 people are living in poverty.
 We can't expect aid dollars to work miracles, of course. But the stats are certainly suggesting that it might be time to refocus those strategies. And if there's anyone left who believes that "trickle down economics" work to alleviate poverty, I'd say Honduras provides a rather stunning example to the contrary.
My own opinion of international aid has grown more uncertain with each passing day in a developing country. (If you can even call a country "developing" when it's so obviously stalled out.) I suppose things would be a whole lot worse in Honduras without it, but how is it that all that money and goodwill hasn't amounted to more meaningful change?
I like the comments of Honduran economist Carlos Urbizo, quoted in the La Prensa story this week. "The fight is not against poverty," said Urbizo. "It's against a political and economic system that generates poverty. The existing undemocratic system, the capitalist system we does not allow this situation to improve."
Not that there's anything wrong with capitalism as a tool for eradicating poverty. There's no way out without money. But in this global world, unbridled capitalism in a country with as weak a government structure as Honduras is really just a route to great wealth for those who already have it and stagnation for everybody else.
Global capitalism has, for instance, brought maquilas to Honduras. There's a good chance you have clothes in your closet right now that were made in one of the big factories here, which employ more than 120,000 people and generate a third of Honduras's GDP. The wheels of the developed world turn on the goods and services produced in poor countries.
But while the maquila jobs pay better than a lot of jobs in the country, the pay isn't enough to lift families into a permanently better standard of living. (Minimum wage for a maquila worker is about $240 a month).
It isn't enough to cover the considerable costs of life in a country without decent public health care or education. It isn't enough to offer any hope for children in the family to get the kind of education and opportunity that might lift them up in turn. At best, it keeps somebody's head above water.
And that's just the maquila jobs. I wondered why the woman who cleans my house seemed so attached to us, then discovered that she has to work almost three full days at another job to match the $8 we pay her for an hour or two of cleaning once a week. Wages are brutally low across the board in Honduras, and way out of balance with the cost of living.
What's to be done? Probably a thousand different things, but three come to my mind immediately: A functioning tax system capable of funding all the basics of a civil society; a government that loves its country and strives every day to do right by it; and a vastly improved education system and international exchanges to ensure Honduran kids stand a chance of being able to compete in a global market.
Those are fundamental changes that Hondurans have to make for themselves. But if more aid dollars focused on helping such cultural shifts happen, maybe we'd start getting somewhere. If foreign governments and companies making money in Honduras actively took an interest in the country and not just in its minerals, palm oil and cheap labour, maybe the children of my underpaid co-workers might actually face a brighter economic future.
Until then, it's just another bowl of soup on the table to stave off the day's hunger. Not much future in that.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Un regalo mas especial - mi mundo en espanol

Just to reaffirm that old dogs can still learn new tricks, how's this news: I'm reading Ken Follett's latest book in Spanish.
Yes, 16 months after landing in a Spanish-speaking country with Spanish-language skills that were not much more than tourist grade, I am now making my way through an epic set in the pre-war years as Hitler rises to power. And I'm understanding it (well, mostly).
I've loved this time in Honduras for all kinds of reasons. But I think I might love it most for the opportunity it has given me to finally fulfill my dream to learn Spanish.
Ever since my daughter Regan won a trip for two to Acapulco in 1993 and took me, I have wanted to be able to communicate in this beautiful language. Every time my spouse and I went back to Mexico for one holiday after another, I yearned for the day when I could just sit on a bus and understand the melodic conversations going on around me.
OK, I'm not quite there yet - last night when I was travelling in a car with a bunch of my co-workers, there were large chunks of their conversation that I couldn't get. I'll know that I'm genuinely fluent when I can a) Understand a group of friends chatting amiably to each other; and b) Comprehend everything said in a tele-novela episode.
But still, things have come a long, long way. People ask me questions and I answer, and no longer do they give me that curious look that signals that I clearly didn't understand what they were asking. I chat with cab drivers, shop owners, restaurant staff, campesinos (people from the country are very challenging to understand). I ask all the pent-up questions I've had inside me for years, my  inner journalist at last free to emerge in both English and Spanish.
That's not to say I don't make mistakes, mind you. In fact, I probably make more than ever, given that I'm speaking more than ever. But at least I hear most of them now, and know how to correct them.
And while it's always a bit embarrassing to have to blunder around in a new language, the truth is that the more I speak, the better I get. Like everything else, learning a new language really comes down to practise, practise, practise.
The best thing I ever did was start reading out loud. I now do this for at least 10 minutes every day. I don't know what it is about it, but it really works.
For one thing, it forces you to hear your own pronunciation and adjust accordingly. But there's also something about the Spanish words falling on your own ears. It's like it triggers something in your brain and makes it easier to understand others speaking Spanish. All those primary-school teachers hounding us to stand up and read out loud obviously knew what they were doing.
I find myself in many situations through my work where I have to take notes, very familiar to me after all my years in journalism. Increasingly, I'm trying to take those notes in Spanish rather than jot in English and translate later. It's much harder and slower, but again, it seems to me that it opens up some new language pathway in my brain when I do that.
Immersion is obviously a critical part of all this progress. How wonderful to have landed in a workplace where nobody spoke English. While it made for a stressful couple of months, I am so grateful to have had no choice but to figure things out in Spanish.
And how wonderful that Cuso International took a chance on me. They gambled that they could put me into a position that I didn't have the language skills for and I would pick it up from there. I don't know if I would have had that same level of confidence in me, but I'm very glad that Cuso did.
So go on, old dogs, get out there and learn new tricks. Our dreams aren't getting any younger.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Coffee recovery plan's got just one little catch...

Coffee beans drying on a cement patio in Copan
Just when the smallest of bright lights appeared on the horizon for Honduras's coffee growers, a new problem has emerged - one that the government will understandably have little sympathy for.
Losses have been devastating this year for the country's small coffee producers, whose crops have been hit hard by a coffee fungus that reduced this year's yields by as much as 70 per cent in some regions. Those losses are expected to worsen in the coming two years, as the affected coffee plants have had to be cut back hard or even pulled out entirely and won't be producing at normal levels again until the harvest of 2016-17.
While slow to respond, the Honduras government is now offering 10-year loans at 10 per cent interest for producers who need to replant. Growers will be eligible for up to $1,500 in loans for each manzana (about 1.8 acres) they replant up to a maximum of five, and there's an additional $1,000 per manzana  for improvements elsewhere in their fincas to make plants more resistant to the fungus known as la roya.
In recognition of the three-year lag before plantations will be producing at normal levels again, the producers won't have to start paying money back until after 2016. The amount per manzana  isn't enough - growers say it actually costs $4,500 to replant that much coffee - but it's a heck of a lot better than nothing, which is what has been on offer up until now.
But......ah, isn't there always a "but" in Honduras? But to qualify for those loans, producers have to be able to show receipts of coffee sales from the last three harvests. And it sounds like there are very few who will be able to do that.
There's a practice in Honduras among coffee buyers of offering a higher price if the grower will forego a receipt. It's a way for the buyers to avoid paying tax.
Many growers are happy to oblige for a little more money in their pockets. Tax evasion is practically a national pastime in Honduras, and margins are tight enough on coffee sales - and on income in general for the country's 85,000 or so small producers - that even a little extra cash is a temptation that's hard to resist. Nor do you see much evidence of tax dollars at work down here, which no doubt fuels people's suspicions that  paying taxes accomplishes little beyond helping some well-paid minister get an even bigger salary.
I wouldn't count on the government to be won over by any of that, however. The country needs Honduran coffee producers to get back on their feet, but it's a reach to expect government to waive a key loan requirement because a producer conspired to cheat the country out of tax revenue for his or her own gain and thus has no receipts.
And even if government were moved to let a little thing like that go, how exactly do you prove that a grower has equity for the purposes of a loan if there's no formal evidence of sales? Foreign governments that wanted to help would face the same problem. Nobody gives out loans based on phantom sales.
When you see the tiny amounts of money that people get by on in Honduras, you can totally understand why someone might balk at losing any of it to taxes. Subsistence farmers in our region count themselves lucky if they earn the equivalent of $100 a month.
Coffee producers do a little better. But even so, most have no more than one or two manzanas and rely on their coffee crops to pay for every household expense, from books and tuition fees for their school-age children to medical costs, equipment repair, animal care and improvements to their fincas.
But honestly, people. Somebody has to get a little more serious about this country before it careens full speed ahead into failed-state status. How can it be that one of the most important industries in the country exists in such haphazard fashion?
There's something to be said for business practices in countries that go a little looser on the regulatory framework than we're used to up in Canada. Sometimes commerce just needs to be free. But then a crisis like this comes along and you see why we went to all that bother. 

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Risking everything for a better life

Illegal immigrants aboard La Bestia, a notorious Mexican cargo train
Illegal immigration to the United States is both bane and blessing for Honduras.
A young acquaintance of my boss is currently experiencing the bane side of things, locked up in a prison in Tyler, Texas after she got caught last month trying to enter the U.S. illegally. Prison officials are telling her she'll be held in jail for two or three months as punishment, then shipped back to Honduras along with the 2,500 or so other illegals from the country who are deported from the States every month. 
The blessing is, of course, the money. An estimated 600,000 Hondurans live and work illegally in the U.S., and the money they send home to their impoverished families accounts for a staggering 20 per cent of the country's GDP.
What would Honduras do without the thousands of brave souls willing to risk everything in an attempt for a better life? Having to leave family and friends behind while dodging countless dangers is hardly the solution that anyone would want for a country, but Honduras would have significantly more problems than it already has were it not for those tough citizens who put their lives on the line for a better life for their loved ones. 
The stories are legion here about the journey, what with so many people having given it a try (and often more than once). The research has found that it's rarely the poorest of the poor who make the trip, seeing as that group can't afford even the most basic amenities to ease the hardships that await. The ones who tend to make it are those who can come up with $5,000 for an experienced coyote - one who knows the safest routes, the best hotels for hiding from the authorities, and the size of the bribe that might be required to get a person out of a tight spot. 
The more money a person has, the easier the trip. One woman made the entire journey in a mere six days, travelling the final leg first with a Mexican police escort and then with U.S. police. Everybody's got their price, apparently.
Others tell of horrendous weeks or even months trying to get to the U.S. Some run out of food and water. Others get attacked by gangs in Mexico who prey on the travellers. Some endure the Mexican cargo train they call La Bestia, infamous for its many dangers and its tendency to leave travellers wounded and maimed from a perilous ride on the roof. One young fellow managed to survive the challenging swim through a small hole in the underwater fence that divides the Mexican and U.S. shores of the Rio Grande, only to discover on the other side that his best friend who'd been right behind him had drowned.
And far too many people simply vanish, leaving their families to wonder forever more. The woman who owns a little restaurant in our neighbourhood hasn't heard from her son since he left for the U.S. six years ago. The family of the young woman who recently turned up in a Texas prison initially thought she'd died as well, as the group she was with had left her behind after she was unable to keep up. 
My Chinese grandfather came to Canada more than a century ago pretending to be somebody's adopted son, a favourite strategy at the time for Chinese immigrants who never would have gotten into the country without that little lie. Perhaps that explains why I've always thought highly of illegal immigrants. 
Catch the right-wing political news on the subject and you'd think they were talking about lazy cheaters who just want an easy ride. The truth is that only the most motivated, the most prepared, the most resourceful people would even consider trying to enter a country like the U.S. illegally.
To want a better life for your family - how can you fault a person for that? Illegal immigrants make tremendous personal sacrifices. They do jobs that others won't do. They fuel the economy of developed countries, even while those same countries work very, very hard to make life miserable for them. 
We talk a good game about "feeling" for people trapped in poor countries, but clearly like it best when they stay home and settle for our little aid handouts. We really ought to be celebrating the courage, resilience and adaptability of those who strike out on an uncertain, life-threatening journey with no idea whether it's going to turn out to be the best thing they've ever done for their family or a tragic and costly mistake.
Let them come. They make this world a better place.