Letter from Honduras: 'There's so many beautiful things in the world'
Forest Park, Sunday morning, Aug. 5, nicest weather all summer. A hawk circling overhead, lighting in the nearest oak tree, a loose red balloon rolling up and down the shallow hill. Broadway show tunes filling the air.
This was the setting for the “funeral” of my brother John, who died of a heart attack July 21. Not so much a funeral, a celebration of his Wonderful Life. Family and friends offered memories and reflections, including “Bi-State” John, a retired bus driver: “When we first met, we didn’t even like each other; then we decided that was taking too much of our energy, so we quit that, and we were friends for 30 years.”
My sister Barb played one of his last voicemails, which was printed on his memory card, featuring a cut-out “viewfinder.”
“I know you’re getting a little bit down. You know, there’s so many beautiful things in the world, and you can appreciate them. You know what you ought to do? Get a piece of cardboard and cut a little square inside of it and then walk around the neighborhood with it like a viewfinder, and try to make beautiful pictures that balance out, and you can try different things. Turn it all kinds of whichways, and get all kinds of things in the corner, and just examine, just try different things. I think you’ll find it kind of fascinating.”
I am in St. Louis till Aug. 21.
Back in Honduras...
Chemo’s education has hit a snag, maybe a wall. His teacher, David, has not been showing up for the Saturday class. “I’ll be there next week,” is all he says when I call. David is the new coordinator for the Youth Group in Victoria, and Saturday is prime time for the teens, most of whom are in school during the week.
Then, David’s brother-in-law was murdered in Santa Rita, a town near El Progreso. We get this news from Patricio Palma, another Maestro en Casa teacher, whose own brother, a lawyer working with the poor, was murdered last year in El Progreso. In a sense, Chemo IS getting an education, Murder and Mayhem 101.
Frustrated by David’s absence, I told Chemo we had to strike out on our own. So we were working our way through the lessons, finishing the Spanish section and marching through social sciences. Patricio offered to help, at least with the quizzes, and showed us the schedule. He has a booklet, three quizzes a subject, and I’m desperately trying to peek over his shoulder to see the questions as he paged through it. Oh, for a photographic memory! Of course, I wouldn’t call it cheating -- it’s resourceful.
Speaking of resourceful, Loyda has opened her own business. Devastated by the murder of her husband, Gerardo (“Tato”), who I wrote about last month, she was spinning her wheels in a disfiguring grief, caring for Tatito, their 2-year-old, as well as possible without breaking down. Then her older sister Miriam showed her a way out.
Tato’s company, Russell Athletic, quickly paid his life insurance of 6,000 Lempiras (about $300), and Miriam suggested they open a little restaurant in a space recently vacated, right by the soccer field. And so they have. When the kids kept telling me Loyda was “working” in the “merendero,” I assumed she was an employee. Finally, I understood. I went in and saw the layout, with Miriam seating customers, Loyda in the kitchen.
“This is yours?” I said. “Ours!” and their smiles lit up their faces. So I turned to the kids, huddling in the doorway. “Let’s eat!” And we all had enchiladas. It’s a little store, too, so I did my best to think of a few items I needed to pick up.
July 20 is the Día de Lempira, honoring the original hero of Honduras who resisted the arrival of the conquering Spanish empire 500 years ago. Chief Lempira was having some success, until the invaders invited him to a “peace conference” and ambushed him on the way. It’s been pretty much downhill ever since. Our currency bears his name, and it’s nice enough that someone like Loyda can continue his proud struggle for independence in some small way.
Honduras scored another triumph against the “mother country,” when the Olympic soccer team eliminated Spain, the current world champion, from the London games, 1-0, in the first round! Of course, thanks to that imperious NBC, most Hondurans could not even watch the game unless they happened to have cable that included an NBC affiliate from, say, Miami. But it didn’t stop the celebration. The agony was, Honduras scored in the first 6 minutes and then had to hold on for the remaining hour and a half to seal the deal. In the second round, Honduras lost to Brazil, the soccer equivalent of Transformers, but Honduras put a scare into them, scoring two goals.
Not all teamwork is for competition. In the nearby village of Nueva Palmira, Doña Fausta, in her late 70s, had no place to live once her mean-spirited daughter Dora kicked her out of the house. No good reason; seems Fausta had spoken well of a teen-age grandson that Dora had already disowned. So neighbors got together to build Fausta a house of her own. A simple thing, of sticks and mud, virtually no cost, but Fausta was thrilled and invited me to the house blessing, a celebración with music and prayer.
Godo, too, needed help. His wife Laura has been waiting for a thyroid operation for three months, shuffling back and forth between Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, hoping to slip through a picket line somewhere. First, the doctors went on strike, then the medical students went on strike, then the orderlies and housekeepers, then the nurses, then the administration itself when they were replaced with faculty from the medical school.
So Godo’s cornfield languished; he barely had time to plant, way late, the little sprouts just inches tall while his neighbors’ crops were already up to their shoulders. So friends gathered one morning to “clean” the rows, that is, hoe the weeds down. We started at 6 a.m., to beat the heat. There were 13 of us; I of course was useless, once the rest of the crew realized I couldn’t tell the corn from the non-corn. So for the four hours we (they!) worked, I was the cheerleader, or, to use an Olympics reference, coxswain. I treated everyone to cold sodas afterward, as the sun came on full strength.
Let me thank you once more for the messages of sympathy and concern and love and caring and friendship upon the death of my brother John. It means so much to me, more than I can ever say. It proves John’s point, “There’s so many beautiful things in the world.” So many beautiful people.
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.