Thursday, March 31, 2011
ESTA ES SU CASA--APRIL 2011
ESTA ES SU CASA--APRIL 2011
Another couple of appearances in THE BEACON. If you want to see what this newsletter SHOULD look like--fitted and formatted and finely tuned, thanks to editor Donna Korando--check it out.
1) http://www.stlbeacon.org/voices/in-the-news/108582-installment-3-from-miguel-dulick (= FEBRUARY CASA)
2) http://www.stlbeacon.org/voices/in-the-news/109084-dulick-writes-about-petronas-death (= MARCH CASA)
"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" (Amish saying)
When the rotted frames came apart in my hand, I knew I had a new pair of glasses back home. When Natalia came running after me and handed me two pieces of something I did not even recognize--”You dropped your cell phone!”--I knew I had anticipated its demise when I bought a spare some months ago. When I returned from a visit to Nueva Palmira with the Legion of Mary and peeled off my cardboard boots, and the socks, and found my tender feet covered with dirt like snickerdoodles cookies dusted with cinnamon, I finally added “boots!” to my shopping list for Tegucigalpa, where I bought these Frankenstein shoes; they weigh a ton, but they are you-name-it proof, and now I could walk on the Moon, even a Super-Moon.
But that’s about as much of my life that resembles any order. When I accompanied Olvin and his father Teto to Yoro Hospital for his first checkup since being shot last December, the bus had to dodge an airplane in the middle of the road! There’s so much money in drugs (thank you, U.S.A.!), that even airplanes are disposable. Apparently, the night before, they had blocked traffic with rocks for a “landing strip,” set up flaming tin cans along the shoulders of the road, waved the plane down, disgorged the ton or so of cocaine into waiting pickups, doused the plane with gas from big plastic tanks, set it ablaze, and took off. By the time we were going through the next morning, the military and the media were in place, doing their thing. Imagine telling the doctor you missed your appointment because a plane crashed.
But we didn’t miss the appointment. In fact, as soon as we arrived, Olvin’s dad spotted the male nurse from Emergency who first tended to Olvin’s shattered left elbow in December. He led us directly to the doctor’s door and put us next in line. He looks at me, and says, “Don’t you remember me? We met at the AA anniversary in Las Vegas.” That’s a small world. It became even smaller when a poor woman with a badly disfigured jaw, whether from cancer or injury, whispers to Olvin to ask if I’m a “pastor.” Olvin, bless him, says yes, and she asks me to say a prayer for her. She could hardly talk, but I was really tongue-tied. I held her hands and said what I could, but I’m sure all the grace was going from her to me.
The doctor sent us over to X-Rays, right next to the single operating room in this tiny hospital. Olvin said, “That’s where they took me. I was crying, I was so scared I would die or lose my arm.” Then he glanced up, over my shoulder. “That’s the only thing that saved me.” He was looking at the big crucifix on the wall. I dared ask, “Was your father crying, too?” “Oh, yes.” I can only imagine. Teto was around the corner, but I asked them for a picture together.
In the X-Ray, you can see the big screw they put in there, and the Erector-Set hinge they fashioned for Olvin’s new elbow. The next step is physical therapy, available at the Hospital in El Progreso, because the arm is really pretty useless right now as is. “It’s gonna hurt,” I told him, “but you have to do it.”
We stopped at a little cafe for lunch, and when they piled Olvin’s plate of fried chicken with side orders of beans and rice, he frowned. “I’m not supposed to eat beans or rice till my arm heals.” I looked at Teto, Teto looked at Olvin, Olvin looked at his arm. “It’s healed!” we all said together. He dove in like an oasis in a desert. Imagine, two months without the campesino cuisine par excellence. That’s a “therapy” worse than stretching an atrophied muscle. I’m no doctor, so maybe there’s some sound reason for such a diet when a wound is fresh, but when Chemo got his chest cut open to fix his heart, I specifically asked the doctor, “What can he eat?” “Anything he wants!” (Of course, he didn’t want much, those first few days, when he felt like he’d been dropped from an airplane.)
I went to Yoro with Olvin and Teto, you understand, to be their expense account. But, believe me, it wasn’t a huge sacrifice. The X-Ray only cost 15 Lempiras, that’s about 85 cents! The biggest payout, as is often the case here, was the bus fare. And I gave them more to pay their way to El Progreso.
Olvin was very grateful. “I’ll come for a visit!” He showed up two days after the trip to Yoro. When he asked, “Where can I put my things?” this little cloth shoulder bag he had, I knew he’d be spending more than the afternoon. So I alerted Dora, who fixes our lunch, and she prepared a special meal that was super delicious. And the next day, and the next day. I kept trying to think of things to entertain Olvin, but basically he was happy to just sleep and watch TV. Visiting was just his way of thanking me. Chemo did sort of attach himself to Olvin like a new-found big brother. For supper, we all ate at Alba’s. And she of course treated him like family, too.
For the first time in months, I went to Tegucigalpa alone, without Chemo, so he wouldn’t miss any school. Of course, the day I left, the teachers went on strike. I love Chemo more than anything, but I do have to say, I get a lot more accomplished a lot more quickly when I don’t have to “waste” time on the Dodge ‘Em cars or extra visits to the mall. But his absence was fortuitous at least for one thing. No sooner did I arrive at Tegus than word came that Marvin’s girlfriend Lizeth had had their baby, a little girl. Without Chemo, I had lots of free time to help out. Lizeth, who’s only 16 (Marvin is 18), needed a Caesarian, so they had taken her to the special maternity ward at San Felipe Hospital, one of the nicer public facilities in Honduras.
Bottom line, Marvin was not allowed to see his baby till we went three days later for Lizeth’s release. The expression on his face after he saw her for the first time was priceless. Marvin’s a soccer player, and this child was his biggest goal yet. He comes out beaming, “I can’t believe it!” and then he says, “Now you go in!” That was the last thing I expected, but he handed me his pass, and I went in, gave Lizeth a gentle hug, and then I snapped one of the cutest pictures I’ve ever taken. Little Diani Estefani blinked open her eyes just in time for her close-up. Meanwhile, Marvin’s mom Karla came from work, and a cousin as well, who had come from Las Vegas to help out. While the nurses filled out the paperwork for dismissal, I walked Marvin to the cashier, where I paid the bill (1000 Lempiras, about $50, reduced by Marvin’s petition in the Social Security office from 1300 Lempiras). With all the help, there was no more need for me to stick around, so I packed them all in a cab and cautioned the driver, “Drive nice and slow, please” and went about my business, which included getting a short lunch at the El Patio restaurant, a tasty item called “la gringa,” a fat flour tortilla folded and filled with a creamy chicken and vegetable concoction.
I had taken “the boys” out the night before to Pizza Hut, to celebrate Marvin’s new paternity. Besides Marvin, his cousins Gerardo, Gabriel, Olancho, some new guy I hadn’t met before, Adriany, and Alec. Alec had sort of a permanent grin on his face, too, because, after 12 years of life, he’s finally met his father. I asked him once in Las Vegas if he knew his father, and he had to say he did not even know his name. That cut me to the quick, and I guess it finally pierced that man’s heart as well. Somehow Alec’s father got in touch a few months ago and invited him to live with him in Tegucigalpa, where Alec is now in sixth grade. That’s another miracle, because he was in class with Pablito and Chepito. Alec dropped at least one year, and Pablo and Chepito both dropped out completely after third grade. For the last couple years Alec was living with his mom in San Pedro Sula, making, we now see, real progress. And what is his father’s name? René Alexander. OMG! I suddenly remembered seeing Alec’s full name on report cards he would show me: René Alexander. All those years when he did not know his father’s name--it was his own name! I said, let’s pretend it’s your birthday so the servers will all sing to you. But of course I was kidding; they’d just sung at the table next to us, and that was embarrassment enough!
I got back from Tegucigalpa just in time. The teachers started crowding into the capital for massive protest marches, and all hell broke loose. A lot of teachers were wounded in clashes with police, and one veteran teacher, a 54-year-old woman, was killed when a local TV vehicle, blinded by all the tear gas, knocked her down, though some witnesses said she was actually hit in the face first by a tear-gas canister. When they showed the scene on TV, that’s what it looked like. Pepe Lobo, the president, who usually just smiles and waves at every crisis, has put his game face on: “They don’t know who they’re dealing with. I’m strong as an oak.” Well, you know, I haven’t seen a lot of oak trees in Honduras. He’s probably thinking of Wisconsin.
These annual wars between the teachers and the government are a plague. A conspiracy theorist might say they script it like the WWE. Corrupt union leaders whip up the teachers, the corrupt government unleashes the police, the corrupt media spike their ratings, and the status quo stays firmly in place till the next round. Japan has a nuclear meltdown. Honduras has a justice meltdown, filling the social landscape with toxins. There is a core of committed peace activists like a vein of gold in a dark mine, but they are swamped by self-interest. I look at Chemo, inching his way through school. If we lived in the city, would I pay for private school?
Natalia, Chemo’s grandmother, a woman immune to self-interest, would not tell me how sick she felt till one of her daughters-in-law, Dania, Marcos’ wife, parents of the new little Daguito, clued me in. I told her she must go to the clinic. “But they don’t have any medicine.” True enough. What good is a diagnosis if they have nothing to give you for it? She knew I would say, Let’s go to Doctora Rebeca, where we would pay retail. Natalia did not want to “bother” me. But I told her, you must go first thing tomorrow. “Caramba,” her favorite “bad” word. I looked around, “Who will go with her?” Dania, of course, volunteered.
The next morning, I caught up with them at Rebeca’s. Now, Rebeca is really wonderful; I love hooking up a woman with a woman doctor; they just click right from the start. Rebeca was alarmed by Natalia’s perilously high blood pressure (200 over something), and huge cholesterol count, not to mention the sugar in her blood. “This is diabetes.” We have no way of knowing how long it’s been Natalia’s problem, but Rebeca speculated that the recent “golpe” of her son Dago’s tragic death could have stressed Natalia into this illness.
Rebeca gave Natalia a bag full of pills and such, and a load of advice about...diet! And this won’t just be for a month or two, like Olvin’s strictures. This is for good. No bread or wheat, for example. That right there would kill me. I love toast!
It’s bad enough that these newsletters are often filled with deaths. So it’s really wicked when I have to “kill” someone twice. But I should set the record straight, because every life is worthy of its truth. Back in June of 2009 I reported the gruesome death of a young man I called Roger Cruz, nicknamed Pato (“Duck”), and I identified him with his obsession with his “milpa,” or cornfield. Well, I had the wrong guy. The other day the kids tell me that Julio just died. “Who’s that?” “You know, Milpa!” “Pato” was run over by a train at the Mexican border in 2009; Julio, the real “Milpa,” was run over by a truck in Tegucigalpa last week, and the two of them weren’t even related to each other. “But they looked alike!” I offered lamely. Yes, the kids agreed, they looked alike. Hence my confusion....
Because of the accident, Julio’s body was in the morgue for almost a week, while the family tried to arrange to bring him back to Las Vegas for burial. Folks here took up a collection to help, and I gave all I could. Finally, when Julio’s brother Javier in Tegucigalpa managed to borrow a car and fill it with gas, they purchased a simple casket for Julio’s quickly decomposing remains still in the police-issue body bag. There was no possibility of any wake or vigil. They would have to go straight to the cemetery as soon as they got here. Julio’s mother Bertilia, who had moved to Tegucigalpa with her son, and another sister or two, were coming too. They did not get away till nightfall, and it would be a long trip. I went over to the house of some cousins here about 10:30 p.m., to wait. I just sat there, the lumpy leftover of the Super Moon hanging in the sky, just overwhelmed at my stupidity that had lost this poor soul three years ago, only to find him again, too late. When they saw me dozing off from grief, a sweet lady said, “Can I fix you some coffee?” I didn’t want to trouble anyone, but I knew the rest of the little group gathered there would want some, so I said yes. We were just finishing the coffee, and rolls, when word came that the car had reached Victoria. So we headed up to the road by the cemetery, shovels and rope in hand. It was 1:00 a.m.
The car arrived, one headlight, dents in the side, coughing smoke, and when I bent in to thank Javier, I could smell liquor on his breath. But here they were. I hugged Bertilia, who had this stunned look, as if she never would absorb this blow. And she kept telling me, “Miguel, pray for my boy, with candles. Please, a rosary and candIes.” It felt weird that we were conducting this burial under cover of darkness, like grave robbers in reverse. But when they lowered the plain wooden coffin into the immaculately etched grave and asked me to say a prayer, I said there is no shame in what we do. There was no other way, this midnight run. Julio is precious to us and to God, and nothing changes that.
Then, as suddenly as they had come, they were gone. I promised Bertilia we would pray, and I finally realized why she was so anxious. The kids told me the next day that none of Julio’s family here in Las Vegas goes to church, so they wouldn’t be having any Novenario, much less with rosary and candles. But that didn’t stop me. I gathered whatever kids I could a couple days later, and we went up to the cemetery, rosary and candles in hand. An unlikely choir, to be sure, but we prayed for about an hour, and then shared the Cokes and snacks we brought along. Ah, Julio, rest in peace.
As practical as the Amish may be, the saying above does not apply to people. Their claim on us does not “wear out.” Nor is there anyone we can do without.
We are just finishing our annual retreat with Father Jack Barron, who comes every year and travels from village to village for a couple months. It’s a little thing, just two days basically, but when you see the folks scattered in knots of shade on the hillside in silent prayer listening for whispers from God, it reminded me of the “Didache,” the oldest Christian liturgy.
“Even as this bread was broken and scattered over the hills, and then was gathered and made one; so let thy church be gathered from the ends of the earth, into thy Kingdom.”
I’m picking up some pieces myself. I’m so stretched out, I’m borrowing money from the Legion of Mary, for heaven’s sake! That’s when you know you’re poor. But it’s actually more cash-poor, till I can get to the bank and get my pension. Hey, I DO still have a pension, don’t I? Hello?