ESTA ES SU CASA--MAY 2010
[Note: If you want to see all the photos from this month's newsletter, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org]
I wondered what I’d’ve missed in Las Vegas if I’d gone to the States.
First of all, more wounds.
I stopped by the tiny kids Jefferson and Helen’s with their juices and chips, a hot morning. Ines, their grandmother, was a-tither; she’d just heard that old Pedro, her husband, had cut his hand with his machete, way up in the hills getting firewood. I don’t have any idea how she knew, but her son had gone to find him. Just then, here they come, Pedro’s hand--like Dulis’ hand in last month’s CASA--wrapped in some green leaves and a bloody rag. I couldn’t stand to look at Dulis’ wound, but I knew I had to see this; Pedro’s a wraith, but he’s a tough old bird. I knew if I didn’t look at it, he’d just shrug it off--which was exactly his attitude--till, when the last leaf came off and I gasped--it looked like he’d lunched with Hannibal Lector--he agreed he probably should go to the clinic. And this treatment would be “free,” because the doc would be on public time. So go, Pedro! And I sent him off with his teenage granddaughter Yolanda.
Half-hour later, Yolanda’s at my door. “They gave him a prescription.” Well, sure, I expected that, you know, some antibiotic or....what the heck? It was for No. 2 thread! “Are you kidding me?? They don’t have sutures at the clinic?” I repeated this about five times, in English, each time louder. “What kind of a country is this? The Big Creep Mel Zelaya--the ousted president--is suing Honduras for his back pay, and they don’t have sutures in the clinic!” The whole neighborhood heard me, two or three neighborhoods, in fact, as I marched over to Rebeca’s, where she has a small pharmacy, and got the damn thread; 100 Lempiras for a tiny package. “What do POOR people do?” A rhetorical question if there ever was one. EVERYBODY’ s poor. And Pedro? He was back at the house. “Yolanda!” I shout. She jumped three feet. She walked him back to the clinic. I guess he shoulda stuck with the leaves.
So I started another round of changing bandages every day. Pretty soon Pedro’s feeling so good he wants to get back to work, chopping that firewood. I tell him he has to rest, at least till he gets the stitches out! I asked him how old he was. “Ninety-eight.” Ines gently corrected him, “Seventy-eight.” I was going with a hundred and eight. But he’s a sweetie, keeps thanking me.
A couple days later, the next shoe dropped, filled with blood. I hear someone yelling in the street, “The Guato fainted! The Guato fainted!” This could not make any sense. The Guato, 23, the toughest soccer player in Las Vegas, does not faint. Unless he’s whipped his machete into his own foot. He was out in the field, cleaning it up for planting, and the machete slipped out of his hand. He wrapped his ankle himself in leaves and, yes, a bloody rag, and rode his bike back to the house, and fainted as he dismounted. But he’s pure steel. No sooner did we help him inside than he was fully alert while grandma Mina unwrapped the wound, the blood oozing into his sneaker. Here we go again! But, hey, this time I’m ready. While Guato rides himself over to the clinic on his bike, I get the sutures from Rebeca on the way! And I don’t even wonder what kind of a country this is.
“He’s going to need a couple shots,” says Dr. Meme, and looks at me. What? Another thing the clinic doesn’t have is syringes! I resist the temptation to grab him by the throat, and just send a kid off to the nearest store to get the stickers. Meanwhile, I ask him about t the leaves--do they really help? Because he really is a very nice man, and a good doctor; it’s not his fault the health care system in Honduras is one big death panel. “Good Lord, no! They contaminate the wound!” He went on to say some folks stuff a wound with coffee grounds, and even dirt. We got Guato back home, and I told him to rest and keep his leg elevated. A couple hours later he was tooling around town on his bike. I didn’t say a thing. I just got him a supply of gauzes and tape and iodine to change his bandages himself. As he said, “I’ve had worse.”
OK, the next one was a perfect stranger. “Dr. Meme said you’d buy me the sutures.” I didn’t know him, but I believed him. He was limping badly and he went to lift up his pants leg, and I saw the bloody rag--”That’s enough.” I gave him a note for Rebeca.
Next was Adonai from La Laguna. Him I know. But you probably wouldn’t recognize his hand, what he’d done to it with his machete. Off to the clinic, but he just missed the doctor, who told him to come his private office. I guess Meme knew this was no boating accident. “Deep, very deep,” he told me later, when I paid the 700 Lempiras (as opposed to 5 Lempiras at the clinic).
Not all wounds are bloody but still go deep. We were all so happy for Horacio, our school principal, when he got promoted to superintendent of the whole municipality of Victoria, which includes about 100 schools (most of them pretty small, from 50 students). But when he tried to move Wilfredo, everyone’s favorite teacher in Las Vegas, and everyone’s best friend, to Tegucigalpita, we were stunned. The move would have simply disappeared Wilfredo; Tegucigalpita (not to be confused with Tegucigalpa) is so far away in the mountains it’s practically in Morazan. Wil could never “commute”; he would have to spend the whole week there, and then he’s still taking graduate classes himself in Progreso every weekend. His wife Brenda would be a widow, their children orphans. Brenda told me, in tears, “Miguel, we are so hurt, Horacio and Wilfredo have been like brothers their whole life.”
Well, politics makes strange bedfellows, and sometimes unmakes them. Since the Nationals won the elections all over the country, Liberals like Wil are getting pushed out. Legally, you understand. The teacher Horacio wants to put in Wil’s place already has her “titulo” (degree), so has more “right” to the job.
A simple parent-teacher meeting turned into a rally for Wil. The tone was set when Brenda was elected president of the parents club. Flor, the current principal, led the charge herself. She had a letter of protest signed by every teacher in the school. And Wil had composed one too. Kako, the most experienced activist among us, offered to chain himself to the school gate if persuasion did not work. Imagine! The first strike of the year won’t be the teachers, it’ll be the parents!
The next day, two carloads of us (the “cars” were pick-ups, you know) went into Victoria to “dialog” with Horacio. I had no idea what to expect, but it really was dialog, and successful, too. Horacio received us graciously and listened to everyone. Kako himself set the tone this time. “Brother Horacio, you know we were all thrilled with your promotion, it was a promotion for Las Vegas itself, we all respect you and appreciate all you did for our school, you restored discipline and excellence, and that was not easy, we all love you and know you as our neighbor, so we appeal to these relations--and to the law, which requires that Wil’s contract be honored to teach in Las Vegas this year.” And everyone else said variations of the same. Things did get a little tense here and there, especially when Horacio referred to gossip he would hear at the soccer field that demeaned him, and poor Flor broke down in tears at Horacio’s “personal betrayal.” But when Horacio asked three times if any one else had something to say, I realized he wanted me to speak, and he finally said, “Miguel, what do you say?” He probably expected a conciliatory message, and that’s exactly what I offered, despite my initial sense of outrage. “Profe, I’ve known you and Wil since you were children and love you both so it pains me to see any rift between you, and we all depend on your position and your honor for a resolution.” Innocuous enough, but I meant it as a thank-you to all the folks present.
Horacio, despite what we all assumed was a lot of pressure from the new mayor to sweep the Liberals out, compromised. He said the new teacher would stay in Victoria, where she is already working, and Wil will stay in Las Vegas, for two years, by which time he should finish his own “titulo” and thus have full legal right to the job. The “dialog” took an hour, the writing of the “document” took two hours. But when it was done and signed, we all hugged Wil and Horacio, the latter a little gingerly since such PDA’s are “unprofessional.”
So I would have missed my day in the Resistencia if I’d gone to St. Louis.
I did go to Tegucigalpa, but not to get on a plane. We sat still the whole month of March, as Chemo got well settled into school. Once April started, I looked for a good chance to get away, figuring we’d go on a weekend, to minimize missed days at school. So we went Saturday, April 10, taking Chemo’s cousin Dionis along, for some big-city thrills. I asked Chemo’s teacher Regina for “permission” to miss Monday and Tuesday, and she gave him a little homework to tide him over.
We had fun, but when I called Elio and Mema to invite them to lunch, they tell me their daughter Chindy got rammed in a car accident in the morning, and her husband Alejandro got car-jacked in the afternoon. Two guys in masks burst into Alejandro’s car, guns drawn, and made him drive to a remote spot, where they put the guns to his head--and left him without pulling the trigger. What a laugh, huh? The car was found later, stripped of his little sons’ backpacks and toys, and other things. “It’s in the shop,” Elio said. And how soon will Alejandro recover? You know, Honduras is second only to Iraq for violence, per capita, or should I say, de-capita.
And I would have missed Cristian’s baby, if I’d gone to St. Louis! Cristian, you may recall, was shot in the gut back in December, and he’s got a foot-long scar from the “surgery” that saved his life. His girlfriend Maria was already pregnant then, and she delivered a healthy little 8-pound girl, Jenny Catalina, on April 23, not without falling near-victim to the caprices of Honduran health care. When the due date approached, they went to Victoria, and someone told them the “materno” (the free maternity clinic) was closed. “It’s a warehouse now.” So they came home and called Erlinda, the best midwife in Las Vegas. She sort of exploded. “The materno is NOT closed, it’s just moved!” So they went back to Victoria the next day, where they found the materno, but, they were told, “It’s twins, you gotta go to Yoro for this, to the hospital.” No ultrasound, you understand, just guesswork. So the next day they go to Yoro, where ONE baby appeared, and no more. They’re back home, now, and I had to laugh. Cristian has appeared in these reports so often, he’s one of the cantina kids--raised in a tavern, littered with vomiting, cursing drunks--and he says to me something I never imagined I’d hear from him. “Miguel, I spent most of the money you gave me on PAMPERS.” He’s 20 and now he’s a father changing diapers. And something else I’m not used to from him. “I prayed, Miguel, I prayed so hard, that everything would be all right.”
I told Cristian , that’s why your life was spared when you got shot, so your baby would not be born an orphan. God saved you to be a father to your child. God may have saved me for the same reason, because I have been giving him a good amount of money. I couldn’t live with myself if little Jenny Catalina was further endangered just for lack of a few bucks....
I cannot show you a picture, ‘cause my stupid camera won’t work! But I’ve got a gorgeous shot I took before it broke of little Helen, Maricela and Blas’s daughter with MS.
Speaking of Maricela, she named her baby Mariana after my sister Mary Anne, as I reported before. So when the first anniversary of Mary Anne’s death came round April 17, I went over to the house, just to sort of bask in baby Mariana’s glow. And glow she did; it’s as if she knew. I’ve never seen her more alert, just looking intently at me, her eyes wide and bright, her tiny hand raised like a gesture of blessing. It gave me the idea to do our own version of a novenario, 9 days of prayer for a departed loved one, including any anniversary of their passing. But I wasn’t sure how to proceed. “We’ll do it here, Miguel,” said Alba confidently, when Chemo and I went over for supper. Of course, they never knew Mary Anne, but they wanted to do this for her. So for 9 evenings, we said the Rosary before dinner, just so, each night another neighbor or two joining the group.
And when Chemo’s “nephew” Joel, Alba’s boy, had his 15th birthday, I don’t know, it just was the best party. A big cake, snacks, Cokes, the usual, but somehow just nicer. I think it was because the kids didn’t just eat and run. Folks hung around a while, listening to music and just having some fun. It’s the first time I can’t show you one of my famous “cake” photos, though, since my camera is on the fritz again. And I wanted to show you a BEFORE and AFTER of Joel and Chemo, BEFORE Chemo’s operation, when Joel would carry his tiny “uncle” on his back, and AFTER, now that they are the same age, and Chemo is a head taller...
One afternoon, 25 little kids came from Uracal, a mountain village about an hour’s hike away. They needed a photo, their teacher said, to claim some kind of “beca” (scholarship) from government funds. Oh man! “My camera...it doesn’t work.” But I had to try. I got them cool drinks from the fridge while I fidgeted with my camera, turning it off and on, tapping it on the cement sidewalk, thumping it, rubbing it, cursing it, blessing it--finally, just when I think I’ll have to send them away empty-handed, a flicker! “Line up, kids!” I got one shot, as the sun slipped behind the hills. I “view” it, hmm, a couple faces hidden by classmates. “One more!” Nope, that’s all she wrote, as the camera shuts off. So, you’ll never know any more about them than I do, but you gotta see this shot...
When they told us there’d be no classes for a week, Chemo and I went to Progreso. As we come into the city 5 hours later, Porfirio, the bus driver, announces “El Progreso!” and a bunch of folks get off, but I don’t rush, I get my gear together, I want to wait till the boulevard, the last stop. I look around, and no Chemo. Instant panic, like a nightmare closing around me. “He got off at the last stop.” What are you talking about?? Porfirio knows me, he knows Chemo, he knows he’s my son, I can’t breathe, I can’t think, I can’t talk, except, “I’m getting off, I’m getting off!” I bound into the street and immediately start waving my arms like a semaphore, hoping Chemo will see me, wherever he is. I know it’s about 3 long blocks, and, indeed, I see this little form in the distance running, running, running desperately, and I know it’s Chemo. I assume he sees me, but he’s running so hard, so scared, it seems, I’m not sure, then he starts to dart across the street and I know, “My God! His eyes! His poor eyes! He CAN’T see me!” I swear I thought of Edgar in “King Lear,” stricken at the sight of his blinded, “parti-eyed” father Gloucester. I almost died of grief myself, it was all like slow-motion or something, and I finally had to tell myself, “Call him, you idiot!” I finally find my voice. “CHEMO! CHEMO! I’M HERE!” At last he knows. He slows down and I speed up. I grab him and hug him, he says nothing, like it’s all OK, but he’s shaking--or maybe it was me. “Were you scared, Chemo?” Shakes his head. “Are you all right?” Nods yes. “Couldn’t you see me?” A shrug. But I kept reassuring him (myself?) that I would never lose him again, and I told him (begged him?) never get off the bus without me right behind you. And inwardly I kept cursing Porfirio (myself?)--what carelessness, to let Chemo off by himself! And in El Progreso!
Then a visit to Morazan, trying to coincide with Fermincito’s 21st birthday. You may recall I previously reported that he had returned from about 8 months of misery on the U.S./Mexico border, hoping for a break--and all he got was a broken arm when a tractor he was trying to drive rolled over on him. Now he’s got another wound, the same kind that has punctuated this letter. He was helping his dad Fermin with the grates for the windows on their house; he was operating a grinder or a cutter or a polisher--something with a wheel--and it broke apart, the wheel shattering as it ripped off the top of his left hand, filling the wound with tiny shards. I saw the purple scar snaking across his hand like a glove, but I was not spared the sight of the butchery itself--Fermincito himself had videoed it on his cell phone! As the doctor (doctora, actually, as she picked out the pieces with a tweezers) worked for three hours, he just had recorded about 3 minutes, but that was more than enough. It looked more like a hand TRANSPLANT. Fermin, the dad, who saw it all happen, said, “Miguel, I thought he would lose his hand.” I thought I’d lose my lunch.
We get back to Las Vegas to hear the news that Will is back on the rack. Horacio is losing his position as superintendent--seems he wasn’t slurpy enough to suit the mayor, who’s trying to clear the district of liberals--so the deal is off. Wil, always the optimist, just says, If they fire me, I’ll do something else. But he was born to be a .teacher. It’s as if the mayor of Manchester told Gary Mazzola who to hire--and fire--at Parkway South. OK, bad example....
Hey, I just got a camera! In Morazan, Fermin loaned me his camera while he tries to repair mine. So take a look, including Cristian and family, and the BEFORE and AFTER of Chemo and Joel.
What did I miss in St. Louis this month, besides the Cardinals 20-inning game? Well, that you must tell me...and I wish I could be in two places at once. At least hold me in your heart, as I do you.
Meanwhile, the annual festival celebrating our church, named “Holy Cross,” starts today.