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La ciudad de la maquila

I settled by tab at my hotel outside Siria Valley, clumsily counting my Lempiras at a first-grade rate. 

Fumbling my receipt in the lobby, I turned my attention to the TV. My Spanish is worse than my ability to count change, but French helps my literacy. ‘Asesinados’ leapt off the screen. I knew what it meant, and I knew where I was. 

Two minors were assassinated outside of San Pedro Sula, the country’s second biggest city after Tegucigalpa. That’s where we’re going next, my guide told me. 

Welcome to Choloma: the city of the sweatshop.

Hundreds lined the dusty, industrial road that served the contracted yellow school buses hauling workers in for a 7 a.m. start. 

Men and women in red shirts made up about a third of the fixed crowd gathered at any given point outside one of the Honduran – and one of the many Central American – maquilas owned by a well-known Canadian clothing company. They were the ones who were supposed to be there, pushing through the long lines of hopefuls looking for work. Cheap breakfasts were being sold from makeshift stands. Men on motorcycles rumbled past us through the massive iron gates that locked off the factory. 

Two of the job seekers told me it’s a difficult application process that requires the right paperwork and the right documents. The tests are difficult. The jobs, competitive.

I spent Tuesday driving to Choloma and talking to women who have spent years on the other side of those massive iron gates. They told me stories of their work inside our own gated compound: the daily quotas they couldn’t meet, the musculoskeletal pain that they carried, the number of kids they have to support. 

In a city like Choloma the rents are high – some 1600 Lempiras, or roughly 80 USD, for a space in the city. Those who can’t afford it live in the lower part of town, with less frequent bus service and fewer food options. 

Choloma is industrial, and that’s why people come. Work can be hard to find, and age is an expiration date when it comes to working in the maquilas.

Four on, four off; 11-hour days; high production expectations and pay that doesn’t meet the demands of city life. It’s a rough job, and a tough life, one epitomized by the urban landscape. Crime is a constant, the homicide rate impresses with the amount of fear it instils, the neighbourhood roads feel like they’ve been shelled and homes, shops, restaurants shut out the city’s MO with iron bars and gates and barbed wire fences. 

Bienvenida a Choloma. 

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