When I tell someone I live in Honduras, I am usually met with one of two reactions.
The first is from those who have visited Roatan on a cruise and are so jealous that we live here. (Reality check: Roatan is like the Maui of Honduras. We’re in Tegucigalpa which is more like… the fair-weathered Detroit of Honduras.) The second is some mix of disbelief about why we would ever step foot in the murder capital of the world. (But wait! The murder rate is trending down… though the massacre rate is on the rise.)
Regardless of how it starts, every conversation usually drifts to the most frequently asked question in our lives right now. Is it really that dangerous?
This question dictates our lives at post. We are bombarded with reminders, from the Embassy, locals, and the horrendous headlines, of the perils of living in Tegucigalpa. It started the day we arrived, when the State Department issued this glowing travel warning to remind us that “the level of crime and violence in Honduras remains critically high.” It continues every time I read the news. Sometimes I feel it, sometimes I don’t. I’m not sure what’s more likely: Do I have a false sense of fear (because “it’s dangerous here” has been repeated ad nauseam) or do I have a false sense of security (because nothing bad has happened to us yet)?
When I was in Niger circa 2009, the Embassy put out similar warnings: don’t take taxis, don’t walk around, don’t carry a purse, the full spectrum of security measures. But I did all of those things and was even encouraged to do so by my program director and local Nigeriens. The “Embassy bubble”, with its armored vehicles and (scoff!) air conditioning, was a frequent joke among us invincible 19-year-olds roaming the streets of Niamey without concern. The tipping point here is that Hondurans preach the same precautions as the RSO shop, often with more fervor. I was shocked to see that nearly every home in the city is blocked off with barred windows, barrier walls, and barbed wire. Nearly every car has blacked out its windows, windshields notwithstanding. Nearly every storefront is adorned with an armed security guard or two.
On the other hand, Americans are not necessarily targeted here (as the aforementioned State Department travel warning indicates). I’d venture to say expats associated with the Mission are actually much safer than the average Honduran. That doesn’t make us impervious, I realize. My Spanish tutor tacitly reminds me of this every time she peers through our peephole before leaving because she was once robbed at gunpoint a few blocks away. The Embassy has a talented team tasked with ensuring our safety and I credit them for my sense of security 100%. (Not just saying that because that team includes J, his boss, and some of our favorite people here.) And if something does go wrong, Post One is a quick phone call away.
But here’s the thing: our safety comes at a cost. We don’t walk, anywhere. Public buses and taxis are forbidden. Even with our car, many places are still off limits. We’d been here four months before we got to see downtown Tegucigalpa, and we were only allowed to venture there to run an organized race with armed police lining the course. The lack of mobility here is stifling to a degree that cannot be understood unless you live it day after day. Following the rules takes its toll.
So to answer the question: yes, it really is that dangerous here, but also, yes you can be reasonably safe here. I was scared before we even got here, thanks to post reports in Talesmag. (MSG Spouse Pro Tip: Read Talesmag reviews for practical information, but remember it is the equivalent of Yelp for the Foreign Service, so take it with a grain of salt.) Because of this, I doubt I’ll ever shed the lingering fear that something bad is lurking around the corner. And I’ll certainly never stop feeling bitter that I can’t walk the two blocks to the grocery store. But it’s not as bad as I had imagined and we sleep soundly (with the door triple locked, of course!) And in light of recent events, I feel grateful to live somewhere where street gangs are the greatest source of fear.