Saturday, April 30, 2016




As we delegados gathered at 9:00 in the morning April 1 for our monthly meeting, word came that Francis, 24, the youngest son of the head of our group, Delma, had been murdered in a barrio of San Pedro Sula just recently claimed by police “cleared” of gangs. Stabbed to death with a kitchen knife in his own bed, Francis may have befriended someone who became his predator. Unmarried and unattached, Francis had just joined Facebook, having some fun in his off hours as a cashier in a supermarket. Here in Las Vegas, he had graduated ninth grade with Dora and Elvis’ daughter Lily in 2006, dancing in the folklore group and doing dramatizations of the gospel in church.

Delma, the strongest of women, was felled by the blow. She would greet well-wishers with a hug and a smile, and her face would immediately sink back to a blank stare. A constant preacher of the resurrection to mourning families, all she could do at her own son’s wake was grab the mic and beg the crowd for quiet. “My nerves can’t take it.” We never even knew she had nerves; she’s always in control and getting things done. But, remember, her husband had been murdered some years before. I was the designated person to speak, and I was shaking; if Delma is lost, what am I? Since Francis is also the name of the Pope, whose constant theme has been mercy, I took a sort of “Je suis Francis” approach, to assure Delma that we are all “with” her, as long as it takes, in her doubts and hurt and struggle, till faith be restored. At the moment, we seemed to be in free-fall. And yet, the women, the volunteers, always faithful, ready with Cokes, and rolls and coffee, and plates of food, kept us grounded in at least a hope of community.

Even Padre Chepito sensed the urgency of the situation and broke his rule of no “private” Masses, that is, at someone’s house rather than the church. He came the next morning, once the body finally arrived after a night of investigations and paperwork at the morgue in San Pedro. He did all he could to speak a word of encouragement.

Delma did not attend the burial; her sister Leila, who had prepared Chemo for his First Communion last year, sort of filled in, but she was only marginally more composed than Delma. Will was stone-faced throughout, almost distant, perhaps fearing his own collapse, not saying a word, not touching anyone nor accepting any embraces. We were at rock bottom.

But every day of the novenario was accompanied by a most thoughtful refreshment, including one day fresh cold slices of watermelon. Delma finally spoke the eighth day. Her theme was, of course, “Thank you.”

Chemo is still inside out. He is so scared of Francis’ “ghost” that he sleeps with the lights on all night. At first, I assumed he just fell asleep, but if I would turn the lights off, they’d be back on before I closed the door. I talked with him several times, but how do you prove a negative? He may be sensing my own dread, lest such a fate befall him. When such horrors happen, I think about it a lot. What would I do?

Meanwhile, Delma’s grandmother, Francis great-grandmother, Paula, was dying. At 103, what else do you do! When I visited, she was conversing with relatives living and dead. They had not told her about Francis, but somehow the membrane between this life and the next seems thinner at such times, and I knew Paula would wait till all the ceremonies were finished for her great-grandson before she passed. And that’s exactly what happened. The novenario ended, we decorated Francis’ grave the next day, and the next night Paula “went to heaven.”

So my chairs that I had loaned for Francis stayed put. A big crowd gathered again, for Paula’s wake, the median age much older, of course, than the Francis turnout. Her death was no surprise, no “tragedia,” as we say, but coming at the time it did, it unleashed pent-up grief and tears. This time, Hilda—Delma’s mother, Paula’s daughter—had to step up. Another deeply strong woman, she has seen it all. For decades, she taught school up in the hills, hitching a ride or just plain walking, for a week’s worth of classes. In Las Vegas, she is the go-to caregiver for victims of accidents with machetes or other messes, until they can get to a doctor. Always the ‘profesora,’ she asks questions, and she asked some about Paula during the days of the novenario, you know, about exactly how was Paula “with God” now, and, with Francis, too? But best were her own stories about her mother, which answered many of MY questions!

Padre Chepito returned for the last night of Paula’s novenario, celebrating Mass outside under the full moon of Passover, though I was probably the only one who noticed the coincidence.

Then, another “tragedia.” Loncho, 35, whom everyone here remembers best when he was tooling around town on his motorcycle with Carmelo, his Golden Retriever, straddling his lap, was shot and killed in San Pedro, apparently in a gun deal gone bad. The guy sold guns! I can’t imagine a more likely scenario for a “tragedia.” But I was stricken, not judgmental, because when Chemo and I went to San Pedro a couple years ago for a special soccer game with teams from Las Vegas, we stayed at Loncho’s house, with his wife Isabel and children Jonathan, 14, and Ana, 9. His nephew Nahum, one of the players, made the arrangements so we wouldn’t have to stay at a hotel.

But Loncho was originally from Copan, at the western end of Honduras, so there was no wake or novenario here. Nothing, really. As painful and demanding as a novenario might be, it’s certainly more of a blessing than just an empty week. Meanwhile, Isabel and the kids are moving back to Las Vegas. Carmelo just stares at the gate, awaiting his master’s return.

The mourning was becoming, don’t let me say routine, but I guess inevitable. Still, I could not grasp the news at first that a nine-month-old baby had died in Paraiso across the river, Nanda’s little girl Jessy, that I have to confess I barely knew existed. A severe attack of fever and diarrhea took its toll in just a couple days; the poor thing died on the way to the hospital. But I went to the house, where Nanda was draped over the child’s body, willing it a return to life. The neighbor women were already at work, with coffee and rolls about to be served. And the tiny casket, the size of a toy, arrived. Jessy’s father Javier grasped my hand, his own hands so rough from hard work. “Miguel, you will pay for the box?” Somehow he knew I was going to offer to do just that. It was the same day as Prince’s death. Can you imagine what a sweet song Prince might have composed for Jessy…?

My 40 chairs had just arrived back in the house after their long circuit when my elderly neighbor Cristina came to the door. Her even more elderly sister had died in La Ceiba (at the eastern end of Honduras), and she had gone to the funeral. But she wanted to remember her here in Las Vegas, where she had been born, so she was asking the delegados for a memorial service. When her daughter Regina, who taught Chemo in second grade, saw all the chairs stacked up, she said, “Mom, no one’s gonna come. They didn’t even know her!” Well! Our community is so good, and we all love Cristina, so every seat was taken. Afterwards, Cristina thanked me with tears in her eyes. Somehow I was again a designated speaker, but I was ready. We had come full circle, you see. Cristina’s sister’s name was…Francisca. So I took the “Je suis Francisca” meme, but more joyous this time, with tears in my eyes.

Thank you, if you’ve read this far. I hope you have a community as loving as this one.

Love, Miguel

Sunday, April 3, 2016




When did March get so long? Maybe when it decided to cycle through a whole year’s worth of weather in one month. Just when the dust was as thick as chalk, it rained again; just when it seemed we had been reserved “a special place in hell,” another cold front had us grabbing for our blankets. I slept a whole day!

Chemo is faithful to his classes, in season and out of season. My favorite part is how he gets to and from Santa Cruz every Saturday on his own. I’m learning the hardest lesson of all, not to baby him so much. Of course, I give him enough money to obviate any possible “emergency.” And he looks pretty sharp in his official Maestro en Casa polo shirt.

Chemo’s schedule makes it impossible to get to Honduras-Progreso soccer games, which are always on a weekend day; but when a game was re-scheduled for a Wednesday, we jumped on it. Not real enthusiastically, mind you, since it was an “away” game in San Pedro Sula, against last season’s worst team, which had just suffered a humiliating loss to Olimpia that involved gunplay outside the stadium before the game and fans tossing a head of a pig onto the field. Shows you what life in Honduras is like, everyone assumed it was a HUMAN head at first!

This season, Honduras-Progreso is the worst team, and they proved it by playing to a 0-0 tie. The team pays for a bus to get the fans (a dwindling base) to away games, so we were with most of the family of just about the only player who is still playing up to his potential, Nangui. Despite the “loss,” he was gracious in posing with Chemo once we all got back to Progreso to enjoy baleadas at his wife’s street-corner stand in Progreso.

Since the game was not much, I was checking out the stadium, because I would be back in a week or so for the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Delegados de la Palabra, lay men and women who serve as pastors in poor and rural communities. The event was a ‘vigilia,’ a 12-hour vigil, from 5 in the afternoon of Saturday to 5 in the morning of Sunday. Longest night of my life, sitting on the rough cement of the stadium, and no place to stretch out, since the stadium was full to the brim! Also not taking any food or drink from the many vendors, lest I find myself needing a bathroom in the middle of the night. In the distance, I could see lights that by 1 a.m. had all gone out. I did doze off some times here and there, but I tried not to check my watch too often.

And my “Plantar Faciaitis” was killing me! I think I had only ever heard of the ailment in connection with Albert Pujols, but that was the diagnosis of three friends when I complained in last month’s CASA about excruciating pain in my left heel. They recognized it, because they’d had it themselves! Of course, I was just sitting there all night in the stadium, but it felt as if someone had taken my foot and hammered it on the cement every 15 minutes.

And yet. The night turned out to be glorious. Hondurans, to speak culturally, love vigilias. And this one made the long trips from all over the country and the sacrifices that many had made, all worthwhile. The field was decorated beautifully, you’d never think it had hosted a bad soccer game, much less a pig’s head, so recently. The program was planned to the minute, all night long, testimonials and readings and of course tons of songs and music, a big dramatization of sin and redemption with about a hundred teens performing, a launching of dozens of illuminated  balloons.

As the final liturgy began about 3 a.m., I awoke from a final, fitful snooze to the sound of an almost transcendental music, rhythmic and repetitive like a Philip Glass piece but actually provided by the drums and winds of members of the Garifuna, originally Africans rounded up for slavery 300 years ago who escaped captivity when their ship sank off the Honduran coast. Like many African-Americans in the United States, the Garifuna became some of the most fervent Christians of anybody. The lateness of the hour and my weakened condition rendered me totally subservient to the hypnotic power of the music and the moment, and I actually thought I was in heaven, even with the gift of tears.

As I found my way out of the stadium afterwards, I hobbled a couple blocks looking for our bus among the hundreds that had come, and there suddenly appeared a Denny’s! “Open 24 Hours,” baby! I crawled in, and ordered every drink I could think of, chocolate milk-shake, orange juice, Coke with free re-fills. And of course, a Grand Slam. I washed up in the bathroom and even shaved. When I left, the buses were still loading.

Back in Las Vegas, another bunch of kids had returned with their parents from coffee-picking, finally ready to start classes. I helped a few more of Chemo’s little cousins with school supplies. They’re on their way, I hope, to a bright future!

I jumped back to Progreso next week just for a night, to catch a performance of one of Teatro La Fragua’s masterpieces, “El Asesinato de Jesus.” I invited along as many of Nangui’s family that wanted to go. Somehow the piece moved me more than ever. Chito, who has played Jesus since they created the work in 1985, seemed to draw deeper than ever from within, to BE Jesus. You totally forget he’s almost twice Jesus’ age by now!

And then, Holy Week. I guess it’s fitting that we just celebrated the Delegados de la Palabra, because this year we were pretty much on our own, our priest Padre Chepito overwhelmed with his duties in Victoria. So it was “poor,” but you might say Pope-Francis-poor, simple, humble, unadorned, just us and Jesus! Well, you know, at least four of our delegados—Godo, Chepe, Julio, Popo—have served about 45 of those 50 years we just celebrated. And a new element lent a freshness and spirit to the services: we have acolytes! In my day, we were just called “servers,” but this little group of four girls and a boy received literally months of training and preparation, and then they were “invested” about a month ago with their special albs and sashes.

I recruited my own little group to help me with my assigned portion in the 14 “Stations of the Cross” for Good Friday. Vilma has these four little kids, and one’s brighter than the other. They’re just as poor as dirt, but they LOVE church! (Of course, sometimes it’s just because of the open space to run around in, but hey….) I usually try to bring them—Jegser, Alvin, Maria, and Dreivin—a little juice box or soda and some chips or something, because they’re always there! And Vilma makes sure that they learn to share, too; they’ll bring me a little sack of bananas or tamarindas or some such thing. So I thought I’d put them front and center when everyone else participating was an adult. They did great!

“He is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” is a happy Easter greeting among Christians. And I got a very special version of it myself when I returned from San Pedro and Chemo’s relatives greeted me with, “Chato’s in the Grupo!” Meaning, Chato, 30, married father of three, the last drunk among Chemo’s Las Vegas relatives, a seemingly hopeless case, had joined our local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. I turned to Chato, who was standing right there, grinning from ear to ear. “Is it true?” “Oh, yes!” and he raised his arms like Superman, or maybe like Batman. A few days later, when I shared a little biblical meditation with the Group, Chato participated with his own comments as if he’d been there all along—which is exactly the “ethos” of AA, everybody’s equal.

I’ve had a little resurrection of my own; since I have followed the careful instructions of my Plantar Faciaitis friends, my condition is much improved! The pain is still sharp sometimes, but now it mostly just feels numb. Thank you, indeed!

Love, Miguel

Tuesday, March 1, 2016




I know it seems out of synch, but here we’re just starting the new school year. Chemo is back in class!

But first, we went to Tocoa to visit Chemo’s brother Markitos—and girlfriend Jessica—and sister Rosa and their mother Rufina, and Rosa’s 7-year-old Tonito. It’s a long trip, at least 10 hours, but once we get to Progreso, it’s a long wide curve along the coast on a paved highway over flat land. Of course, that’s a little deceptive, since it takes you into the belly of the beast, the most conflicted territory of Honduras, unending violence between the “owners” of huge tracts of land and the peasants they stole it from. So it was maybe no surprise that at the last stop before ours, a crowd had gathered around a dead man freshly shot in the head.

We were all set to visit in July of 2012, for Rufina’s birthday, when my brother John died. Then my brother Bob died, and we lost any enthusiasm we might have had for a trip. Plus, although Chemo “plays well” with Markitos and enjoys teasing Rosa and treats Tonito like his own kid, he’s really not too fond of his mother. “She abandoned me!” And that’s true; the family just fell apart when the father, Juan de la Cruz, died of a bloody accident, falling on his own machete.

Rosa actually has the best sense of humor of them all; at least she laughs at all my jokes! And Tonito, with his “sixth-sense” shock of blond hair, is quite a studious little third-grader. Markitos does farm work, for pay, and he’s saved enough to join a cooperative that is buying a palm-oil plantation—from a “narco.” “Don’t worry, Miguel, it’s all legal.” Of course it is. Meanwhile, Jessica has taught him to read!

I had counted out very carefully the money I wanted to give them (hoping it would somehow magically reappear in my wallet afterwards), but they immediately used most of it to pay the past due rent. So I squeezed out some more… Of course, I also took them shopping, took them to lunch, got their meds, etc., all with my credit card, so I didn’t strictly “pay” for that. (And probably never will; heck, I still owe my plane fare to St. Louis from last September!)

Back in Las Vegas, with a little help from my friends, I could outfit some kids for school, including some of Chemo’s cousins who, let’s just say, are not used to school, so they asked Profe Mercedes if she would accept them in her little school in Paraiso, just across the river, where they’d get more personal attention. She is so lovely, she said yes, of course! She’s one teacher in one room with 53 students in 6 grades. Another teacher is due next week, if he doesn’t run away!

Meanwhile, the oldest parts of the school in Las Vegas were demolished. I doubt I would be any help in an emergency, but I was watching closely, in case one of the dads volunteering for the work should have an accident in the crumbling debris. The whole roof of the 50-year-old relic is corrugated slabs of asbestos, but, hey, they “know” it’s carcinogenic, so they’re using gloves….

Of course, Chemo’s return to school is the big news. He has FOUR teachers for the different subjects, which means, I hope, that if one teacher is absent, he won’t lose the whole session, which runs from 8:00 till noon every Saturday. Plus, he’s got about 10 classmates, to help keep him accountable. And then there’s YOUR support! When I put the news on FACEBOOK, it literally brought tears to my eyes to see all the encouraging messages for Chemo’s success. Gracias!

For lack of funds, we did not go to a single Honduras-Progreso (“featuring Nangui!”) soccer game all month. Not that we missed it that much, since the team is playing so poorly.

What finally got us off our duffs was, first, Maria’s birthday in Morazan. Her daughter Arlin planned a surprise party, but that was sort of spoiled when son Eduard walked in with four three-liter sodas and plunked them down in the middle of the kitchen. Plus, a cake had been sitting in the fridge for two days. But I love to see Maria and Fermin together, still noodling like newlyweds.

Second, we had Neysi’s 22nd birthday in Tegucigalpa, where we also picked up 2 boxes from Mac McAuliffe at the airport, a sewing machine for Dora, Neysi’s mom, and kids’ clothes. We celebrated at Pizza Hut in between classes—they’re all university students, Neysi, Lily, Tito, and their housemate Bayron. The pride of Las Vegas!

Do you think it’s possible to get the Zika virus only in my left foot? I’ve been hobbling around like an extra in “The Walking Dead” for at least a month. Feels like someone hammered an iron spike in my heel. I guess it’s the kind of thing you’d say, stay off it! But you know, I’m walkin’ here! Sometimes, it barely hurts at all, then there it goes. Sometimes it hurts worst when I’m just sitting down. Where’s that medical marijuana when you need it!

All my love, Miguel

Thursday, February 4, 2016




First thing we had to do for the New Year was re-rope the church bell. Any other time it snapped,  Chepe Bautista would climb high up on the roof and balance himself on the eaves to reconnect the line. But Chepe, who served for decades as the sacristan, opening the church in the morning, locking it up at night, preparing everything for the services, putting everything in order, was dying now, and we had already started a nightly watch to accompany him and the family. So Cristian, a leader of the Youth Group, scrambled up there and made the repair, this time with the strongest cord we could find.

A couple days later, the bell was tolling Chepe’s death. He was so sturdy and strong, it didn’t seem possible that he was gone. Father of my neighbor Dora and grandfather of her and Elvis’ kids, I considered him a father, too. You know, he never learned to read, but he knew the Bible cover to cover. I say that, just based on how he lived.

The holiday soccer tournament ended up in a championship game that was a near duplicate of Honduras-Progreso’s triumph over Motagua. The home team, Atletico Vegas, and the team from Panal (up in the mountains) played all afternoon (at least it seemed that way) in a 2-2 tie, with another scoreless 30 minutes overtime, till penalty kicks finally settled the score in our favor, and the crowd went crazy. Still, both teams took time to join in prayer, a moment of quiet and tears.

Honduras-Progreso is not much of a champion right now. Chemo and I had to go to twice to Progreso to see even one goal from Ñangui’s team. Ñangui’s mom Santa always prepares a bag of confetti, but their 2-0 loss to Olimpia was the first time in their home stadium that the bag stayed on the bench. But Ñangui did give me his cap, as compensation for having to sit through such a lousy game. Two weeks later, the team from La Ceiba scored a quick goal in the very first minute, and the crowd languished, disillusioned and discouraged, deep into the second half, when the coach finally sent Ñangui in. The fans came alive, fired up, eager, and in less than a minute, Honduras-Progreso had its goal and the confetti flew! Ñangui did not score the goal himself, but he cleared the way, confounding the slow-footed defense like a whirling dervish.

Ñangui’s little brother Joel invited Chemo to play on his team, called “Palanca” or ‘pump handle,’ a nickname for their captain Marlon, who is really skinny and really tall. Marlon promised Chemo he’d start! Then they told me where the game was, at a field at least two miles away, at night, on the other side of the bridge over the frequently flooding Ulua River, not just a high-crime area, the HIGHEST-crime area! Or at least I thought, but Santa was going, sort of like the den mother, and Ñangui’s sister Karla was going and bringing her two little boys, so I thought, what the heck, I’m not gonna live forever anyway….

I did pay a guy with a van to get us there, but as we climbed out, he said, “Don’t call me,” for the return trip. The field was dark, everything was dark, but you could make out the forms of some guys by a picnic table. As they approached us, I resolved to protect Chemo at all costs, assuming I didn’t have a stroke first. They were saying something, maybe picking who gets who, and then…, one of them gives another a lift up a pole where he opens a padlock and throws a switch and the whole field is flooded with light! “Ready? Let’s play!” So, no massacre after all….

We stopped at Morazan for a few days on our way back, to see Fermin and Maria’s new granddaughter Briana, the child of Eduard and his girlfriend Evelin. Now, Eduard is just six months older than Chemo, and I always use him as a role model, since he’s got an education degree and already has two years of teaching experience under his belt—and now he’s got a baby! Chemo, don’t do THAT! Please! But maybe you saw my former student Brian Marston’s photo he posted on FACEBOOK when he heard the news; he came to Honduras with me in 1994 and held Eduard as a new-born.

Then we all joined forces to fell a small but stubborn tree that was leaning dangerously over all the electric cables for the neighborhood, giving us a classic photo, sort of a reverse of the famous shot of Iwo Jima.

The folks injured in the horrible bus crash a few days before Christmas are recovering. I was especially thrilled when Maricela, who had at least twenty stitches all over her face, said, “Wait!” to put herself in the photo of her husband Juan Blas and son Felipe with their birthday cake just a couple days ago. And her niece, Michelle, whom I had seen faint at least once from the pain of her wounds, now wears a sleeveless blouse without embarrassment, even though her right arm is just a quilt of scars. Alma and her daughter Merlin, perhaps the worst injured among the survivors, with almost identical ravages of their whole left side, are walking some and moving around, and I guess the muscle and tissue are gradually reforming. Alma even mentioned baking cookies again, some day. I will buy the whole batch, I swear!

Chemo’s making his fourth attempt at seventh grade. It was all his idea! He made the arrangements with the same teacher, David Suarez, who nursed Chemo through his Maestro en Casa class a few years ago to get his sixth-grade diploma. By David’s sheer mercy, Chemo passed that class. (Final exam, 7 X 8, something like that, was about the toughest question.) So we are hoping for a repeat; I think we’re all on the same page on this, you know what I mean?

But pray for us that the Zika doesn’t get us. This dreaded disease is sweeping the continent, causing birth defects so frightful that women are being told not to get pregnant for at least the next two years! And, besides the mosquito that originally came off the Zika tree in the jungles of Uganda, it seems the disease can also be passed by sexual contact. Where’s the OFF! for that?

Love, Miguel

Thursday, December 31, 2015




The glory of Honduras-Progreso’s national championship, the sacred joy of two weddings, and the thrill of Christmas vacation, all were plunged into darkness on Sunday, December 20, with the fatal crash of a bus loaded to standing-room only just minutes from its destination in Las Vegas. The brakes failed on a steep, twisting descent to Victoria, but passengers didn’t even realize there was a problem till it hit with such blunt force that every seat was ripped from the floor and sent airborne, slicing through the bus like a wood chipper, throwing victims out of broken windows, the front of the bus like some monster vomiting debris and passengers. Three dead at the scene, including one decapitated. Another died in hospital, with two or three more lives hanging in the balance.

Chemo and I might have been on that bus, if we had not decided to stay an extra day in El Progreso to celebrate with Nangui’s family the soccer championship. I had attended the wedding of Manuel Figueroa and Gloria, along with his 11 brothers and sisters and their spouses and kids, and his mother Erlinda, the very same Erlinda I was begging your help for some months ago, Erlinda, the widow of Guillermo, who died so tragically of a chemo overdose a couple years ago. Yes, and the mother of Maricela, the mother of six with her husband Juan Blas, including my little namesake Miguel Angel, and Marite, whose sixth birthday pictures are featured in this CASA.

In the accident, Erlinda got a horrid black eye and other strains and bruises; Maricela broke a rib and got enough cuts on her face and hands for twenty stitches; Juan Blas got a walloping bruise on his right leg, which only FEELS like it’s broken; Miguel Angel somehow escaped without a scratch; Marite broke her collarbone and is hefting a big plaster cast. Michelle, 16, a cousin, who often plays Jesus in our Sunday dramatizations of the gospel, just a lovely girl, had the whole back of her right arm sliced open to the bone. Another little niece, Fernanda, has two lines of stitches like barbed wire across her whole forehead.

One death that affected us all was Leydi, a neighbor of mine, a friend to everyone. The wife of Pastor Mauricio, whose little church serves a variety of good folks, she had a simple, some might say plain, face, but it just glowed. When I was president of the parents club in 2013, during Chemo’s first attempt at seventh grade, she was not an actual member of the Junta Directiva, but she helped us with every project all year. I looked in vain just now for a nice photo of her in my archives—nothing, she’s always in the background! I had to borrow a couple from her cousins posting on Facebook. Her little son Quique and his cousin Jesse often come by my house selling bags of the most delicious cookies you ever had, made by Leydi”s mother Alma, who is fighting for her life, after a literal scourging in the havoc of the accident. You see, this family, like Erlinda’s, was returning from a wedding, too. The bus, chartered to accommodate all the folks heading to Las Vegas, including a couple dozen workers getting their Christmas break from sweatshops in Choloma, a suburb of San Pedro, apparently was not subject to inspections the way the public buses are; and the driver, who by all reports has gone insane, is in jail, plagued with nightmares I guess of a route he had never driven before.

In comparison it’s nothing, but at the moment, I thought my experience at the Big Game was the end of my life. As I said, I went to the wedding of Manuel and Gloria, while Chemo went early to the stadium, along with Nangui’s family. By the time I got there, about 6:30 p.m., the gates were closed, with 400-500 ticket holders still clamoring to get in. This had riot written all over it, so I hung back, especially when I saw the police raising their weapons. I figured they had tear gas, too.

But the crowd started pushing, and battering the biggest gate, solid steel, the size of a barn door—and suddenly it twisted and shook and gave way and fell like a stricken dinosaur. Then they really pushed. I tripped and fell, hard, losing my glasses, but something strange happened. A circle opened around me as they helped me to my feet, and somebody returned my glasses to me. In another moment, I was pressed so hard against the metal frame of the fallen gate that I thought my back would snap in two, and I lost my phone; somebody pulled me through, and somebody else returned my phone. Once inside, I thought I’d be ducking bullets, and I clung to some little trees there; a man with a face so sweet I thought he was an angel came to me and held me and asked me if I was all right, “We’ll get you a seat, Miguel.” I looked and looked and finally recognized Alexander Lopez, the MAYOR of El Progreso, a man I know through our mutual friend Wilfredo Mencia. You know, maybe he said, we’ll get you an ambulance, but anyway I was restored, and now brave enough to do some pushing of my own, gently, gently, excusing myself a thousand times, till I made my way to where Chemo and Nangui’s family could see me from the stands.

I stayed down by the fence, and swore I would not move no matter how hard it rained. Well, I moved at least five times, to shelter under the stairs. Motagua, a 13-time national champion, a legend, a tradition, and a cheater (they had their own version of deflate-gate that got their coach suspended) scored first. But Honduras-Progreso kept its cool and evened the score before the half ended, by which time both teams were so covered with mud, it was a guess who was who.

Controversy in the second half, as the referee waved off a goal by Motagua for being off-sides. Well, you know, every champion needs a little luck! (In the game the week before, at Motagua’s stadium in Tegucigalpa, the “homer” referee red-carded a Honduras-Progreso player on some made-up infraction right after he scored the first goal; but even shorthanded, Honduras-Progreso managed a 3-3 tie against the Big Boys.) And when Nangui came into the game ‘long about minute 65, the whole stadium erupted in wild cheers. I swear, even the Motagua fans were joining in!

Ninety minutes, and thirty more of overtime, till it came down to penalty kicks. At first, Honduras-Progreso looked completely lost; they were just standing around chatting or something, while Motagua was busy as bees running and pointing and pretend kicking. Turns out, our coach had a hunch the title would be decided by “penales,” so they’d been practicing for over a week, winnowing out any weak links, till the crew of five was composed strictly of players who had not missed a shot. Ready when you are, Motagua! Of course, I was nervous as hell, but when the first Motagua player sent the ball totally over the net, I let myself believe—a bit. When the second Motagua kick also sailed over the net, I began to think of what I would say to Nangui. Meanwhile, Honduras-Progeso made every one of their shots. As Homer Simpson would say, No problemo!

So we won! Glory, rapture! And as huge as the crowd was, 7000 fans crammed in a stadium built for no more than 3500, there was no undue celebrating, turning cars over, throwing things, setting fires (another thing Motagua had been suspended for a time or two), much less any fights (Motagua’s biggest suspension came when their fans actually beat a rival fan to death!). So, really, the whole “futbol” world—at least the Honduran portion of it—agreed: Honduras-Progreso was a worthy champion, in only its third season of operation. It was like a sandlot bunch of kids taking down the New York Yankees, David v. Goliath. “Go crazy, folks, go crazy!”

Then the bus accident, so I barely posted on FACEBOOK about the game at all. And I felt so helpless that I was not with the mourners and the injured in Las Vegas. Actually, there was not much I could have done; Dora called me to ask if Leydi’s family could borrow my chairs for the wake; and the injured were not home themselves, with hospital stays and such. A time for weeping.

I really think the best news of this CASA is Chemo’s First Holy Communion. For me, it marked not just the season but the whole year with grace. Leila had prepared him so lovingly all year long, with his little class consisting of nieces Cecilia (“Chila”) and Reina, and a very shy boy named Emerson, who came down from Guachipilin, an hour’s hike, for their weekly lessons. We celebrated with a special “triple” cake from Carlota, since it was also Chila’s birthday. I kept reminding Chemo and the girls, don’t forget about your second First Communion and your third First Communion and so on. Chemo’s already up to his Seventh Holy Communion, including a 6:30 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral in Tegucigalpa. That early rising was a miracle for Chemo right there!

We went to Tegucigalpa for Lily’s graduation. The first in her family ever to attain a university degree, she graduated from La Pedagogica, the largest teacher school in the country, and Magna Cum Laude at that, in a class of over 500 graduates. The whole family went, her parents Elvis and Dora, and the kids Dorita and Doricel; her other siblings Neysey and Elvis Jr. were already there, also “universitarios.” A timely Christmas gift from a dear friend in the States helped with all the travel, and also a big celebration afterward of Chinese food—take-out, of course!                                  

All the best for the New Year! Keep us in mind, as we pick up the pieces, here in Las Vegas and there in the Flood Plain.

Love, Miguel

Wednesday, December 2, 2015




Do you have any kids? And do you have any money? ‘Cause you can’t have both! Chemo needed new glasses—again! (The cheap pair we got on sale broke already.) He needed a new phone. (The kid who stole it had spent the night; he grabbed the phone before Chemo woke up; we chased him in two moto-taxis all the way to Victoria, where the police had already been alerted, but he got away, so the six of us ate fried chicken at PolloLandia). He needed new shoes. (He’s harder on keds than a labrador puppy.) He needed new pants and a new shirt—for his FIRST COMMUNION! (Coming up this Sunday!) And, as if all that weren’t enough—he still EATS!

“Maria Bonita”—I thought it was a charming nickname (‘Pretty Mary’) when I first heard it years ago, till Dora sheepishly admitted it was a diss, because Maria was so ugly! At that point, I decided to be her Avedon, and take as Vogue-ish a portrait as possible. She was so poor, but so noble, she never shrank from the public eye, even if folks might have been laughing at her. Then, about a month ago, word spread that she was sick; at 94, she would not get well. But none of us counted on the long road she had to travel. Every day, we were sure it was her last. As she shrank to the size of a raisin, I kept trying to understand why she had to suffer so. But as weak as she was, she reached out to anyone who visited and pulled them close, her dimming eyes brightening. A group would gather every night at the house. I stopped by early on her last day; she was taking short, quick breaths, the sign the end was near. Indeed, she soon just stopped, and her daughter started to weep as she tested her pulse and pressed her ear to her chest. All quiet. I know I sound like someone with a tin-foil hat, but I finally decided that she lingered so long so that WE would get stronger. She was Catholic, but her family had evolved to a pentecostal sect that thinks you do not pray for the dead. So, in effect, she had her Novenario BEFORE her death. Her “real” name: Maria de Jesus. Pretty, after all.

Chemo and I went to Nangui’s final regular game, which the team managed to tie up 1-1 in the last minute with a penalty kick. Back at the house, we celebrated Nangui’s little sister Yulissa’s birthday with the usual menu from Pizza Hut and Nani’s Bakery. Chemo danced and danced. As a few of the family walked us back to the hotel about 1:00 in the morning, we heard others shouting after us, “Look out, there’s a guy on a bike going to rob you!” Wouldn’t that have been perfect! It will probably happen some day, but whoever it was may have been intimidated by the two big house dogs that follow the family wherever they go.

Meanwhile, in his team’s final game, Chemo scored a goal, against his own nephew Joel! Not that I would doubt Chemo’s skill, you know, but I was not totally ready with the camera and I got only a very impressionistic image of the event. Chemo was so excited, he turned an Ozzie Smith type somersault—I didn’t get that either!

Fermin and Maria didn’t seem that excited to see me, when I stopped by Morazan before returning to Las Vegas. Well, they were both exhausted from the end of the school year, final exams, final grades, final farewell parties. So I just lay low, till Fermin perked up after a couple days: “Miguel, when are we going to the Lake again?” By which he meant Lake Yojoa, the largest fresh-water lake in Central America, where a line of a hundred little restaurants all feature fried fish to die for. Maria grasped Fermin’s hand: “Tomorrow?” That was the “sign” I was waiting for! The next day, everybody managed to get out of school a little early; Fermin’s car was in pretty good shape for the hour-and-a-half ride; and by 1:00 p.m. we were all hunched over plates of fried fish at Gabriela’s, not a random choice at all, it turns out. “She never raises her prices,” said Fermin, which I appreciated since I had made it clear this was my treat. And Gabriela herself was there, a bit elderly now but so proud of her establishment.

Juan Carlos had a birthday. I long ago managed to quit him of the nickname “El Mudo” (Deaf-Mute), but some folks were still a little unsure who I was talking about when I invited them to the party, and virtually no one could guess his age—41. They always think of him as a child. And indeed, as one friend said on FACEBOOK, he’s an adult with a child’s heart.

Maricela celebrated the same birthday—41—a few days later. She not only has one child’s heart, she’s got seven! That is, Mariela, Milena, Juan Jose, Helen, Felipe, Miguel Angel, and Mariana Teresa, called Marite. It’s Marite, who just turned 6, who’s keeping Maricela busiest lately; the child has monthly appointments in Tegucigalpa for a kidney problem, and most recently needed plastic surgery, of all things, for some growth on the back of her head!

Chemo’s cousin Keyla turned 5, and we celebrated with toys donated by Wydown Junior High students. Even Grandma Natalia got a coloring book!

Quelin Archaga’s father Justo came to Las Vegas to deliver personally an invitation to her ninth-grade graduation in El Zapote. Back in 2004, when Christy Tharenos was visiting, she befriended Quelin and has kept in touch ever since. So I would be Christy’s representative! Quelin, everyone assumed, was Number One in her little class of 6, but another girl beat her by one-tenth of a point! Now, really, are teachers so sure of themselves that they can measure things that close? I always tried to round UP, on the assumption that my own evaluation was faulty. (Kids did seem to get better grades if the Cardinals were winning when I was reading essays at Busch Stadium!) But it was a sweet ceremony nevertheless, and Quelin wants to be a teacher—a math teacher—if the family can scrape up enough money to finance the next phase of her education.

But I guess my favorite occasion last month was the wedding of Elio and Mema’s niece Cecilia (“Cesi”). She lived with them in Tegucigalpa from high school all the way till her graduation as an architect from the Catholic University, so I had watched her grow up. She made a beautiful, may I say, beatific, bride.

Well, I’ve got to get my Christmas tree up, so let me just wish you all the happiest of holidays, and I’ll see you in 2016!

Love, Miguel

Wednesday, November 4, 2015




The never-ending birthday. As soon as I got back to Honduras, Elio and Mema—they picked me up at the airport!—took me out for a birthday lunch at Ni-Fu Ni-Far, a big fat restaurant specializing in beef from Argentina. Believe me, I was grateful, and I would have made a pig of myself under normal conditions, but I was still so stuffed from a month in St. Louis, I did my best just to save face. “I’ve got a spare tire,” I said, bouncing my bulging tummy. “That’s a tractor tire!” exclaimed Mema. Really, there was feast enough just being with them. Mema is due to get the cast off her broken foot sometime soon, though even if the bones are setting, lots of therapy is still due. 

The topic of conversation was Jaime Rosenthal, a perennial try-out for President, never achieving the nomination but forever a mainstay in Liberal politics and Honduran society with the dozens of businesses he owns (including Banco Continental) and the newspaper he ran (El Tiempo, which somehow named him “Man of the Year” almost every year!). Now in his 80s, his life is ending in disgrace, thanks to a son and nephew who have been laundering drug money through his bank for more than a decade. Without Jaime’s knowledge?? The United States is bringing the charges and calling for the extraditions, but the government of Honduras, firmly in the hands of the National (conservative) party, is taking advantage of the situation to foreclose every single Rosenthal asset, including the bank (300,000 customers left holding the bag) and the newspaper, which over the years published columns written and ghost-written by Jesuits with no other opportunity for a national voice. Weirdest of all, the Rosenthal Zoo, with 9000 alligators, languishes untended. 

As Elio and Mema declared, isn’t a man innocent till proven guilty? As personal acquaintances, they feel for Jaime’s plight. But this news comes sandwiched between one mayor after another taking perp walks for running drugs and hiring assassins. The mayor of Sulaco, just a few miles from where I live, ran a “banda” that rubbed out rivals, recently found in shallow graves, as many as 60 people, including the son of a teacher that works with Fermin in Morazan. In that case, the young man was not fast enough with the wanted information about some drug peddler he only knew by name. 

Still in Tegus, I took Lily, Neysey, and Tito—Elvis and Dora’s kids all studying at the University, plus another friend Bayron, to lunch at Pizza Hut. This has to rank as one of my greatest “investments,” helping this family to accomplish something unheard of in Las Vegas, 3 kids at once in the University! 

Then I returned to Las Vegas, just in time to celebrate a couple birthdays before I zoomed off to Progreso. First, Chemo’s niece Albita, more formally known as “Suyapa,” turning 4, who I presented with the Dora the Explorer backpack she asked for, courtesy of Jane Lindberg, who plucked it off the moment I mentioned it in St. Louis. Then, Chemo’s cousin Lindolfito, turning 7, and to him I gave the toy cars that kids at Wydown Middle School had donated. 

 To Progreso, then, for a game with Nangui’s team Honduras-Progreso. They scored a goal early in the contest and held on for a 1-0 victory over Juticalpa. Honduras-Progreso has been in first place since day one, and they should finish there with just two games left in the regular season. 

But guess what? Chemo did NOT go with me! I didn’t know what to think; first, he calls me “papa,” as I reported in the last CASA, and now he says, “I better not go; I’ve got to go to my First Communion classes.” Are you kidding me? He’s finally taking the sacrament seriously. Suddenly, the kid’s a candidate for sainthood! 

I spent a few days then in Morazan, where I delivered the film Fermin had asked for (regular roll film, in those little canisters, still available at Walgreen’s!) and the Sleep-Eze he was eager to replenish. Maria was tending to some tiny kittens whose mother died the same day they were born. I was still sort of just winding down after the wall-to-wall visitations in St. Louis, but they surprised me with yet another birthday party! The whole family pitched in, and I couldn’t have been happier. 

Now that I’m back in Las Vegas, the lines are forming, and the needs are multiplying, starting with Maricela with three appointments in a row, two for little daughter Mariana Teresa in Tegucigalpa and one for herself in Progreso. Dora from Nueva Palmira is still not healed from her hernia operation, and Chemo’s half-brother Santos is passing blood. These and other dire straights gouge out the substance I thought I had built up in my “account.” But in a country whose corruption bleeds over the whole hemisphere, I take heart from a quotation I saw from Pope Francis: “How shall we define who is a ‘human being’? A blessing? Yes, a human being is a blessing; a human being blesses others.”

The living look for some helping hand, and the dead, as the sweet Book of Wisdom says, “are in the hands of God.” So I spent a lot of time in our cemetery on November 2, the Day of the Dead, more piously called the “Poor Souls.”  Folks had been chopping down weeds for a week in anticipation of the observance; then flowers, pine needles, ribbons, and other memorabilia would decorate our loved ones’ resting places. I usually sit by the grave of Miguel, and not only because it’s in the shade or because we share a name. He was a teen who died in 1991, struck by lightning in his corn field. Every year his mother arrives with another “corona” (crown) of flowers. The never-ending story, and each of us has one, blessings all around.