Saturday, December 3, 2011
ESTA ES SU CASA--DECEMBER 2011
ESTA ES SU CASA--DECEMBER 2011
THE NICE SECTION
Chemo passed fourth grade! I think I mentioned this before, but now we have documentation. On November 30, the students got their “certificado.” Chemo’s teacher Juana Maria had him and a few other kids spend an extra week after classes ended November 4, to sort of compensate for his near miss by helping clean up the classroom and doing some extra exercises.
So, while the teachers prepared their final grades, Chemo and I celebrated, first, with a trip to Tegucigalpa. Chemo had not been there since last June for his heart checkup, so he had a lot of eating to catch up on. We started right away, with a meal right at the Nankin Hotel as soon as we checked in. In Las Vegas, we eat chicken at least 12 times a week at lunch and dinner, but the fried chicken dinner at Nankin--outstanding! You just can’t help it, you gotta have it. Especially after a long bus trip.
We took Mema and Elio out to lunch the next day, to their favorite restaurant Mirawa. Mema was feeling pretty bad, so we did our best to cheer her up. “Can I order something special?” she said. She had in mind some fish. The server asked, “Small, medium, or large?” We drew a consensus for medium, but when it arrived, after all the other dishes had already been served, it was as big as Flipper, I swear, but fried. “This is medium?” So we all helped, you know, just to be nice....
Chemo got new clothes. I knew that was coming, but we did have to negotiate the soccer shoes a bit. The upscale shop at the mall had a 50 percent off sale, but most of them were still way out of reach. And the clever clerk wasn’t helping. “The blue ones? They look great on you!” I favored the black ones, at half the half price of the blue. When Chemo went over to check out some others, at full price, along the wall, I whispered to the guy, “You gotta help me. Please!” He got the message, and talked Chemo into the black ones. “They fit better, don’t they?” But Chemo gets some credit, for his own yielding to reality. And we compensated with Puma socks.
The victory lap picked up again the next week, with our patented combo trip to El Progreso and Morazan. In Progreso we celebrated a couple more birthdays, of Argentina (“Tina”), the long-suffering matriarch of the family, and Yulissa, 16, one of her granddaughters, whose mother Santa fancies herself my “girlfriend”; she wanted to know where the engagement ring was that I supposedly promised I would bring from the States. I distracted her by betting a number in the rather elaborate daily games she runs. I really don’t know if it’s a legal pursuit, but it keeps her and Catalina, her sister-in-law, pretty busy. I bet 65, Tina’s birthday age. That was at lunch. Then Chemo and I went off to the new mall and spent some more and ate some more.
In the evening, we got pizzas and chicken wings at Pizza Hut for the official birthday party, as we waited for the numbers. At 9:00 they announce the Lotto winners on TV; these are Santa’s “winners,” too. When 65 actually came up in a row of four balls, I almost fell off my chair! “That’s not OUR number,” Santa quickly clarified. Of course not. “Our” number was the single ball that popped up in the next round, 49, but I kept insisting I had won, even when they walked us back to the hotel after we had enjoyed the birthday cake.
Then, the next morning, to Morazan. Fermin had already warned us that he would be tied up with schoolwork in the morning, so we took our time, to arrive around noon. But Maria was home, so I gave her a wad of cash as soon as I could, for some food, an un-birthday celebration, you might say. And she came through, with help from daughter Esly, about to graduate from ninth grade. Lunch was great, supper even better, featuring Maria’s own fantastic fried chicken, and everyone could relax. But I’ll tell you what, the thing I most enjoy is just watching Chemo play with the other kids, soccer, naturally, whether it’s Santa’s kids in Progreso or Fermin’s in Morazan. And we went “downtown” to get more soccer shoes; Chemo was being coy, but I figured out he’d promised to give a pair to his cousin Dionis back in Las Vegas. I couldn’t get upset, really, since Dionis gets no “extras” from his own very poor family.
Besides Chemo, there were other finishers, including Dionis, who “graduated” sixth grade, and hopes for a smooth transition to “high school” next year. It’s a big gap to leap across successfully. As Profe Flor, the principal, said at the closing ceremony November 30, at least half the seventh graders have to “recuperate” some courses in January or flunked outright. Among them is Hector, the artist, whose work you have admired. I knew he was slipping away; he hasn’t done a drawing in months.
Elvis, Jr., “Tito,” who had nearly fallen in the chasm himself when he had to “make up” four courses after seventh grade, graduated ninth grade free and clear, and looks forward now to a career in computers. It fits him perfectly, a sort of introvert, and left-handed, so you know he’s intuitive. He can start with the stupid little MP-3 player I just gave Chemo, which we can’t makes heads or tails of.
Mariela, daughter of Juan Blas and Maricela, graduated one step higher still, a “post-graduate” degree, three years past ninth grade, Honduras’ version of a “Bachelor’s.” She is the eldest, and would love to continue to the university, dreaming even of becoming a doctor, but money in this case is not just a gap, it’s the Grand Canyon. Really, only by my paying (with your help!) the family’s weekly grocery bill all these years could she get even this far. And her sister Milena is right behind her, finishing a “bachillerato” in Progreso, with some help from her young uncle Manuel, himself struggling to make ends meet, with a job in the morning and Psychology classes in the afternoon.
The ceremony was lovely but so staid and formal that it seemed like a parody of a graduation. UNTIL Angel Ramirez took the floor. The graduates themselves invited him, because of his wonderful help with their “practica” in La Ceiba, where Angel now lives. The principal Maribel Barahona did not even want to issue the invitation because Angel does not have a “degree.” He’s not credentialed, don’t you know. Angel was my first best friend in Honduras when his mother Olimpia cooked my lunch and supper in Las Vegas 30 years ago. So when I saw him at the head table, I was just begging the protocol gods to let him speak! He turned the place upside down. He had a tiny piece of paper with about six lines on it, and he gave a stem-winder on each point, more impassioned at every turn. His theme: you don’t need a degree to succeed as a person! Guess who he cited? That’s right, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc. As he insisted, he wasn’t putting down “education,” just the big head that may accompany it. His own “graduation” was from alcoholism, thanks to A.A., and I have to say this is the first time I’ve heard him tell his story without tears, but I think he wanted to show Mariela and her companions how far he had come. I wanted to leap to my feet in cheers when he finished, but I settled for the photo op as the principal smiled politely when the class presented Angel with a plaque.
Mariela inspired her father to go back to school, to finish his own high-school diploma in a program sponsored by the parish called “Maestro en Casa,” a home-study routine with week-end meetings for tests and exams. Graduations here are as big as weddings, and unfairly costly. A few years ago, when Padre Chicho heard Maestro en Casa was planning a big affair in Victoria, he put his foot down. “This is education for the poor! You’re not gonna charge them for bottles of champagne on every table!” Things have been very simple ever since. It really is the best educational bargain around.
But folks do like to celebrate, even when they don’t have to. So we delegados (lay ministers) were pretty much overwhelmed with all the “secret” preparations that the Legion of Mary, the catechists, and the youth group coordinated to honor us on the “Day of the Delegado” last Sunday. There were skits, and games, and a big lunch, and not just for those of us in Las Vegas; they had invited all the delegados from the surrounding villages, too, and their spouses, of course, and kids. It wasn’t champagne, it was even fizzier!
Speaking of fizz, when the first moto-taxi appeared in Las Vegas, I thought it was mere fluff. “It’s a village!” I said. Everything is within “walking distance”! But Noelvis, the driver, is the nicest guy, and, I suppose just like cell phones, what began as a curiosity has become a necessity. And now there are two! Oh, the competition. I finally broke down and used it myself when Chemo completed the first step to his “majority,” applying at the local office of the National Registry of Persons in Victoria--which is way past “walking distance,” at least for this Old Gringo--for his official state I.D., issued when you turn 18, but you can apply at age 17. I knew we would miss the bus back to Las Vegas, so I called Noelvis to come get us. We laughed the whole way! It’s the funniest little contraption, running like a rabbit over holes and hills and creeks, threatening to flip over at any moment.
Maybe it doesn’t qualify as “nice” news, but it’s funny enough to make the cut, and that’s how the Liberal Party has broken up into about 6 or 8 splinter “movements” to accommodate every zig or zag taken by Mel Zelaya, the president ousted in a coup three years ago. His egomania has not diminished, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s nominated his own wife as the next presidential candidate for all the fledgling mini-parties. It’s such an obvious power grab that even Mel’s staunchest loyalists, priding themselves of course on their principle, are forcing Mel to agree to proper primary elections for SOME kind of competition for Mrs. Mel. But it’s not just dumb; it’s illegal. Any political movement that wants to be registered with the Election Tribunal to get a place on the ballot has to have its own, unique candidate for president. It’d be like the Republican Party, the Tea Party, the Libertarian Party, the Constitutional Party, the Propeller Hat Party (Chris Matthews’ term, referring to some Democrats), and a half-dozen more, all running Ron Paul for President, just to cover all the bases, add up all the votes and beat Obama.
Of course, “legal” is a pretty flexible word in Honduras. But, as I reported last month, it’s gaining some new prestige, as Julietta Castellanos, with the strongest spine in the country, has single-handedly created her own “movement” to clean up the police, whose corruption has more layers than an onion, with new revelations and resignations daily. Her son was kidnaped and murdered by police, brazen enough to use their own squad car for the job, and she has been unrelenting in pushing for reform, using her position as president of the state university to get the word out. Even the President, Pepe Lobo, clears his speeches on the subject with her now. It’s scary, no doubt, since she’s making herself an obvious target for the international drug criminals who don’t like anyone ruffling their feathers. But she’d also make a great candidate for President, compared to Mrs. Mel, who is a “no-brainer,” you might say.
I had to delay this CASA just long enough to include Mariana Teresa’s second birthday on December 2. She’s the youngest of Maricela and Juan Blas’ children. Named for my sister Mary Anne and Teresa Jorgen, she sort of sums it all up, what Honduras means to me, and to you, I hope. Last year, her birthday cake was bad news; it was way underdone and rubbery. So we had Profe Flor do the job this year; her cakes are as big as the Rose Bowl but light as a feather. Mariana Teresa (“Mari-Te”) is not exactly graduating, but when a community buries a baby at least once a month, every birthday is a Ph.D.
And at a Mass that evening, Maricela asked Padre Jaime for a special blessing for Mari-Te. He said, “We’ll all bless her!”
Happy Holidays to all, and God Bless Us, Every One.