Letter from Honduras: Shopping, eating and first aid in the new year
The buses were still crowded even a week after New Year’s, so the seven hours to Tegucigalpa on Sunday, Jan. 8, stretched into eight, assuming anyone had room to stretch! We were crammed in there like a week-old gym bag. Chemo, 17, Marcos, 15 (Chemo’s “little” brother, still a head taller), Dionis, 14 (their cousin) and I had at least one deadline: to renew my Honduran Residency Visa by Jan. 9, when it would expire. But I knew fun and clothes and food, food, food, were the boys’ real priorities, so once we checked into the hotel, we headed off to the Nova Centro Mall, the site of the “carros chocantes,” the dodge ’em cars. They were running a special, 600 Lempiras worth of rides for 300 Lempiras. I thought, We’ll be here all night!
But the boys racked up about 10 sessions of bumps and grinds in about an hour and a half. “One more! One more!” they kept crying,but I thought we’d all have concussions if they indulged any further. So, as per our agreement, it was off to 6 p.m. Mass at one of Tegucigalpa’s prettiest churches, the Milagrosa, just across the street. It was the feast of the Epiphany, and they had a sort of “native” band for the music with lots of drums and spicy rhythms. I loved it, Chemo liked it, Marcos didn’t really notice, and Dionis hated it. That was more or less the breakdown for the next three days.
After Mass, also as per our custom, we crossed back to the mall to eat. Our schedule is stricter than the Constitution!)
My first stop Monday morning, the bank, to request a “constancia,” or statement, that I have exchanged at least 1,000 dollars for Lempiras every month. Yearly though it is, the folks at Banhcafe remember me and process the thing in minutes. Then, off to Migración, now a very expensive cab ride away at the far end of the city, by the airport, where the biggest mall in Central America is going up.
I had heard about City Mall, but until I saw the acres and acres of raw concrete pillars and floors and towers, still in skeletal form, I could not have imagined it. It’s bigger than our whole town of Las Vegas!
Is this a sign of prosperity? Honduras rising? The swelling tide that lifts all boats? No, it’s a giant money laundering of drug profits. Well, that’s just a guess. Next year, we’ll probably be eating at the Food Court, but it’s more depressing than exciting to contemplate how much misery and mayhem have sponsored this monstrosity.
Renewing your visa is a hurry-up-and-wait exercise, in at least four slow lines. But I am careful to thank everyone along the way, for allowing me to stay in their country. And I mean it! I don’t want to take it for granted. I finally got back to the hotel about noon, and the boys were eager for their turn. Off to the Mall Multi-Plaza, the very first mall opened in Honduras back in 1998, remodeled any number of times, but familiar and comfortable as an old shoe.
The boys wanted clothes, shoes and, of course, lunch! Dionis led the way, since he never gets in on these outings, with Marcos right behind, who would be returning to dirt poor subsistence in Tocoa. But I had an ulterior purpose. I told the boys they needed new digs for tomorrow night, Mema’s 63rd birthday party.
Tuesday night we took the longest, most expensive cab ride yet, to a remote gated community called Los Hidalgos, where Elio and Mema sought refuge three years ago after they were chased out of their house and business -- a grocery store -- by a gang demanding exorbitant “protection” fees and threatening to kill their grandchildren if they did not comply. Since they both thrive on hard work, they have been literally sick without anything productive to occupy their time.
But this night would be different. With contributions from their (grown) children, food was abundant, including four different kinds of meat and three birthday cakes. It was so wonderful to see Mema enjoying the gathering, though of course what made her happiest was making sure everyone else was well served. I have not seen the family so happy in years.
When we got back, the annual festival had already begun in Victoria, dedicated to the Black Christ, a devotion inspired by a shrine in Esquipulas, Guatemala, that has attracted pilgrims for a century, ever since the “miraculous” crucifix in the church mysteriously turned black. You may remember I talked about the festival observance last August when a big crowd of us at a “cabildo,” or open meeting in Victoria voted to ban the very popular “beer-booths” this year.
Guess what? It didn’t take. There were still at least 10 beer vendors, their rusty refrigerators stocked full. Well, our pastor Padre Jaime wasted no time drafting a letter to the mayor reminding him of the commitment to clean up the disorder. Jaime even hinted at “consequences” of breaking the “law,” which we were all told in August was the force of the democratic decision taken at the officially sanctioned “cabildo.” But, you know, when you have to pass a law in a supposedly Christian community to suppress public drunkenness during a week-long celebration of God’s mercy in Christ -- I mean, haven’t you lost already?
On the other hand, Las Vegas’ contribution to the vigil on Saturday night -- the Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross -- was so well done and so moving that I guess I really believed Jesus: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” The drunks are really just a distraction from the sinfulness we all indulge in and choose to excuse or ignore. Each “word” included a short introduction read by Carmen Hernandez, a “dramatization” by the Youth Group, a brief commentary by a delegado, a penitential song from the choir, and it drove home the reality of what Fr. John Kavanaugh of Saint Louis University calls the “radical contingency” of our common humanity. Ultimately, we prayed, “O Lord, have mercy on me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13).
It had been so long since anyone showed up with a bloody cut that I had stopped stocking iodine, gauze, Neobol spray, and tape. Suddenly, an epidemic. First, my neighbor, sweet old Mina, 84, had a dizzy spell and fell and split her forehead open on the corner of a table; she was tended to by Dr. Meme at her own house, but you should have seen how fast the news spread and everyone came running to see how they could help. I did not have the Neobol, but I had some “cicartrizante” cream that was near expiration, which Meme was happy to apply. Eight stitches.
Next was Rene, 17, who I saw limping along about 3 in the afternoon a couple days later. “I cut myself clearing weeds.” Up in the mountains, in the early morning, with his machete. He had it all bound up with -- get this -- some leaves and a necktie. His mother is in San Pedro, awaiting an operation for cervical cancer. So I hustled him into my house, and, thinking we’d just sort of clean it up and put some band-aids on, I had him sit in the bathroom with Chemo, gently washing the wound just below his right knee. By the time they were finished, the bathroom floor was awash with blood. I swallowed hard and put the band-aids away.
I called Doctor Rebeca, who said she’d be glad to help, but she was in La Ceiba! So I sent some other kids to find Dr. Meme, who sent word back to meet him in his private office at his mother’s house, just a block away. Rene said, “Miguel, is this gonna hurt?” In my calmest voice, I lied, “Not at all.” As I watched him grit his teeth and twist his arm around his head in pain, I felt pretty bad for deceiving him, but when he was all finished, he thanked me. Six stitches.
Just as I was toting up the score, here comes Alec, 13, very reluctantly, who has cut his foot on a piece of broken glass down at the swimming hole. Once he unwrapped his “bandages,” including the ever-present leaves, I could see, amid all the crusted blood, that it was a straight cut, on the very sole of his left foot. I didn’t even think you could sew that up; kids that almost never wear shoes have soles as tough as any leather. But by the next day, I changed my mind. Alec, who’d obviously learned from Rene’s experience that it WOULD hurt, kept saying, “Miguel, don’t spend your money.” But I called Rebeca, who was back in town.
“Bring him over, Don Miguel. We’ll take a look.” He went without too much resistance, hobbling on one foot. At first, Rebeca thought Meme should handle this. Why? “It’s been over 12 hours.” Uh-oh. Whose fault was that! But when I said I’d sprayed it with Neobol (a sort of medicinal super-glue, which I had by then re-stocked), she felt more confident, and started assembling her gear. Poor Alec lay face down across the chairs on the porch, and I did my best to calm him and hold him steady as Rebeca injected his foot over and over again with anesthetic. It was waterboarding without the water.
Small and wiry, Alec likes to sort of peacock around like a tough guy, but now he was reduced to sobbing and sniffling like a baby. I think that hurt him more than the syringe. Three stitches. Just three, but it was slow going. No thank-you’s from Alec, but by the afternoon, he was his old self, sassing and shorting all comers.
I just got a batch of Christmas cards! Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! Wonderful to hear from you! Some folks frown on “Christmas letters,” you know, with all the family doings from the past year. I read them like Scripture, I’m so eager for news. I had just checked a week before with Mercedes, the very nice woman who handles the mail in Victoria, whether I had any “correspondencia.” Nothing right now, she told me. Then, this sudden drop. She actually came to Las Vegas to deliver the cards personally. So I guess somewhere in the system they had held up the mail for the holidays. That’s fine, I love getting Christmas cards in the “summer”! They can double as Valentines.
Next month, school starts and I’ll also report on my trip to Mexico for the wedding of former Parkway North student, Christy Tharenos. Can’t wait!
Thank you for remembering us down here; I might echo the great Etta James, who just passed. “At last, my love has come along.” First, last, and always, that’s you.
Miguel Dulick has lived in Las Vegas, Honduras since 2003.
There he has no projects, no plans, no investments -- only to share the life of the poor.
For years he has been sending reports back to friends and family in St. Louis, and the Beacon is proud to become a part of his circle.