Thursday, May 15, 2008

Invader Road

Invader Road, originally uploaded by Honduras Sprout.

There are communities, usually along rivers that have been built up by people that "invade" the land. They are nicknamed "the invaders" for this reason. They make homes out of found objects and scraps. They tap into city water lines and electric lines. They have no rent and no utilities to pay, but they are usually the ones that work for the lowest wages. Many will be fortunate to make US $5 a day. The city does not kick these people out or try to cut the lines that they tap into. You can see the electric line poles erected and the lines spliced and stretched everywhere.

At one time the city constructed apartment type dwellings for these people to go and live - for free! Taking advantage of an opportunity to make some money they sold the properties given to them and moved right back to where they came from. I think we often feel inclined to feel sorry for these people, but they often live how they do by choice. It's how they have always lived and it is what they know.

Children choose not to continue with school or are encouraged to work to help bring in money for the family. I think it becomes almost "uncool" in this sub-culture to want to continue with school past maybe the 5th or 6th grade. True, the schooling is poor but it's the attitude too that schooling in unnecessary because there is little aspiration to move out of this type of living.


ikaros said...

Hi. I’m an occasional reader of your blog via links from other Honduras-related blogs and wanted to take a moment to comment on your post regarding the “invaders” that inhabit the shanty towns built on and alongside the levees ("bordos") in and around SPS. I’ll refer to them as "squatters", which is the English term for people that occupy land without permission or title to it.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, there was a housing program for levee "squatters" in and around El Progreso/La Lima, which were some of the areas that were hardest hit by the raging floodwaters. To my knowledge, SPS didn’t have a similar program or any other systematic program for resettling and housing its levee "squatters". Please refresh my memory if there was a program that provided apartment-type dwelling for levee "squatters" in the city. I don’t know the number of people from the post-Mitch program that got a house; however, many of those who benefited eventually sold their house and found their way back to "el bordo".

The analysis of why this happened is much more complex than being inclined to believe that often they do it by choice as it is how they have lived and living in "el bordo" is all they know. People scraping the bottom of the economic strata in underdeveloped countries have little to no concept of investment as they operate in short-tem consumption mode. Whatever little money is earned goes to provide the next meal for the individual or his/her family.

Sudden home ownership didn’t automatically enable or provide access to increased economic opportunity. Instead, it added to the financial burden of subsistence-level incomes by adding “costs” previously not encountered (i.e. utility bills, property taxes). In addition, the locations were relatively farther away from where they made their living and this added extra “costs” in terms of transportation in getting to and from work. Homeownership then became more of a liability than an asset and the end result was eventual selloff and reverting back to "el bordo". For people living in poverty and day-to-day, an asset is cold, hard cash and not the title to the structure over their heads. The choices we make are a function of our realities.

The realities of living in squalor and abject poverty have an effect on choices such as seeking or continuing schooling. In underdeveloped countries, the earning potential of a child significantly increases around the age of a typical 5th/6th grader. So, it is no coincidence that education seems to stop around such an age. Why not continue with school? It boils down the opportunity cost of sitting around hungry in a classroom, or picking cans, scrap metal, begging, or selling fruits/vegetables to get a few Lempiras to buy "baleadas" to eat. Please keep in mind that Honduras doesn’t have a school lunch program. Again, the choices we make are a function of our realities. I don’t think that an “uncool” attitude towards education accurately describes the decision making in this situation.

There are some cultures that fit your views, such as the Roma (Gypsies) of Western Europe. In spite of years of systematic and comprehensive government efforts to provide fixed housing and educational opportunities, they revert to their nomadic culture and traditions that maintains them to at the bottom of the social and economic rungs of their respective societies. I hope you are able to see that "la gente del bordo" are "la gente del bordo" for rather complex, interconnected, and interdependent reasons as opposed to by choice or trying to be “cool”.

For reference, I was born and raised in SPS and knew or made friends with people that lived in either "invasiones" or "bordos".


Honduras Sprout said...

I realize that the decisions and the opportunities of how and why these people live where and how they do are very complex and not easily explained. I simply write a short note about it with the post. Everyone can see and interpret things differently, but honestly, I could never know what life is like for these people. What I do see is that many are very hard working, nice people.

We have employed a number of them being that we live within walking distance from the river where they live and gotten to know others that work in the neighborhood. After learning about some of their situations I decided that I had to stop feeling sorry for them in the sense that they are not happy and that they feel that they make decisions based on what they think is best for them.

Thanks for giving a more in depth perspective on their situation. You would probably know a lot more than I would.