Living in Honduras or Guatemala as a foreigner is sometimes hard, mostly fun and never boring. This Blog is about more than just the oddities of my years in the not-so tranquil, cobble-stoned town of Copán Ruinas and, more recently, Antigua Guatemala. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Football Identity



So Honduras has qualified for the 2014 Brazil World Cup and the football craziness has been replaced by just as noisy political campaigns for the upcoming elections. But let’s not talk about politics and return to football instead…

There’s no denying that football unites people. After the recent qualifications even political differences were temporarily put aside and everybody joined in the celebrations. Being Dutch, that’s no news for me. An orange wave spills over my home land as soon as the national team is up for an important game. I can’t help but get excited here in Honduras when I hear the (mispronounced) names of the Dutch players announced, or the first notes of our national anthem. I don’t feel particularly Dutch, am not necessarily proud of serendipitously being born as a citizen of the Netherlands and couldn’t care less if you insult my country or fellow Netherlanders. I’ve been living more than half of my adult life in Honduras and even know the entire national anthem by heart, whereas I can only mumble the first two phrases of the Dutch one. However, as soon as La Naranja Mecánica is about to kick off, my heart starts racing and I’m a hundred percent Dutch again! So why is it that I don’t identify with blond, blue-eyed girls dancing on wooden shoes, Edam cheese and not even the Great Masters of the Dutch Renaissance, but I do with eleven guys dressed in orange, running after a ball?

A couple of years ago there was an interesting discussion going on in IS, a magazine published by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about cultural identity. The question was in how far people adapt to their adoptive country and how much they identify with it. One of the readers sent in a letter in which he summed it up nicely, saying he had been living in China for 25 years, had a Chinese wife, Chinese kids and a Chinese job. He eats Chinese, thinks, talks and dreams in Mandarin, but oooohhh when there’s Dutch football on TV: Hollaaaaaaaaaand!!!

I really have no idea where this collective craziness comes from that turns even the most intellectual academics in silly morons with orange hats and face paint, but it exceeds borders and even continents (except for the US of course, where strangely enough our football has never been a big thing. But they have their own football. And baseball of course). But as intense as it is, it’s also not very long lasting. Especially when our national team loses, we tend to quickly forget about the whole thing, or turn all together against a collective enemy. (Usually the Germans for the Dutch and Mexico for all other Central American countries.) That way the bond of being “one” lingers a little longer, but eventually it dissolves in thin air. Until it is ignited again by the next World Cup or Champions League.

Honduras is unfortunately a country with few heroes or role models, in neither past nor present. Whereas Nicaragua has its share of revolutionary heroes; Guatemala a Nobel prize winner in Rogobert Manchú; Venezuela an (in)famous reappearing dead president; Argentina the Pope and Messi; and Colombia has Shakira, Honduran citizens never made it to the realms of fame and eternal illustriousness. Maybe that’s why Honduras goes so crazy when the national team is doing well for a change. Every Honduran, men, women, children, rich and poor, including a bunch of ex-pats, get over-excited and proudly discuss the game as if it were they themselves running into a sweat for an hour and a half. It makes people proud to be Honduran. And whether that’s a good or bad thing, well, that’s a whole different discussion…

Bottom-line is, I’m very excited that both Honduras and Holland are qualified for the World Cup and can’t wait for it to start. But what if Honduras will have to face Holland??? I can’t tell you now which team I’d support… I mean.. I wish…. No, I can’t decide! I guess it will be the moment my true identity will be revealed…

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A National Holiday to Fight Off the Hangover




Yesterday it was eerily quiet in Honduras… Public offices were closed and students found the doors of their schools shut.
Honduras’ national football team had qualified for the World Cup the night before. So president Pepe Lobo declared October 16th a holiday in order to celebrate the victory.

I myself am a great football fan and have, of course, watched all the classification games and yes, I‘ve joined in the celebrations too. However, those celebrations usually last for a just few hours after the game, not all the way through the next day. I mean, one can only drink so much. Not that a day off to nurture the hangover isn’t welcome, but is it really necessary?
As happy as I am that Honduras will go to Brazil next year, I think it’s a bit over the top to declare the day after a victory a national holiday (it wasn’t even a real victory, the game ended in a tie). Would the president have done that in my home country Holland, he’d probably get his butt sued. Imagine: parents, whether working in the public sector or not, all of a sudden have to stay home with their kids because the schools are closed. Scheduled meetings, carefully planned events and long awaited appointments all postponed. And what about the personnel at public hospitals? Fire fighters? The police force?  Public transportation? All off celebrating? Or if at work, will they receive double pay for working on a holiday?

An unexpected holiday in Holland would probably paralyze the economy completely and but a handful of die hard hooligans would appreciate the gesture. But in Honduras it was already half-heartily expected (because the president has done so before), so people almost see it as a right. And as for the impact?  Well, the country seems to be running as normal, without all too much ado, just hop scotching along as it always does. 

I love football, especially the frenzy around important games between national teams. I think that football could actually play a huge role in the development of a country (more about that tomorrow). But I don’t see how a last-minute declaration of a national holiday attributes to much. Except for the actual players, of course, who really deserve their day off.

So the morning of the Day After, I left at 7.30am to teach an art class. And oh, was I happy to see all my students show up, holiday or not!