February 7, 2007

The story of Frank

Mario and Frank working on our 'banana plantation'

We have had a couple of workers here for about a month. Originally, two guys showed up looking for work − of which we had plenty. One of them was young, about 18, and really didn't want to work, he only wanted pay. I call that type a 'watcher.'

We have had construction and yard workers on and off for the past 5 years and there are always a certain percentage of watchers somewhere between 20% and 50%. It's best to weed them out at the beginning because they are a bad influence on the people who really do want a job. That may sound harsh, but we treat workers fairly and expect the same from them.

El Jefe was gone during the day much of the time the first week and the young one apparently had the mistaken idea that he didn't need to work when "The Boss" wasn't around.

They were mulching the beds in the front yard. They would each bring a wheelbarrow full of aserrín (wood shavings) to the front yard, but while Frank worked shoveling and spreading mulch, the young one would lean on his shovel and watch and wait until Frank was finished. I observed him doing this just about every time I looked outside.

Finally, I went to talk to him. I first politely suggested that he could work spreading the mulch in a different area. He simply turned his back on me! I then said that he needed to understand that he had to work for his pay. I asked him if he understood me. He ignored me! Finally, more than a little peeved, I said that we pay for work not for watching. He then gave me the finger wag to indicate I was wrong and tried to imply that he was working.

Okay, by then I felt a little bit like The Hulk. You know, the part where he begins growing, the veins pop out all over his body, and his hair stands on end just before he smashes something to smithereens. I wanted to fire him right then. Frank, apparently understanding my Español just fine, stepped in and told the young guy to take the wheelbarrow to get more aserrín.

Frank cleaning out a flower bed

As it turned out, the young guy didn't return after the first few days, understandably disappointed that this was one of those jobs where he actually had to work. Frank stuck it out and miraculously the next day, Mario showed up looking for work. He said that he hadn't been able to find work for a month. Mario had worked for us long ago so he just took a chance that we might need someone and came by.

But this article is about Frank. The first part was just to show the contrast in people. Frank is a good worker. He's intelligent and polite, he works hard, asks questions, and has a pleasant attitude. He was the one I was frustrated with the other day, but it was more a frustration with the situation, not with him personally.

He seems to have some knowledge about plants and gardening. I asked him about that and he said he had done some of that kind of work before but mostly he does construction work. Each week El Jefe asks, "Well, we're through with the workers this week, right?" and I respond with a long list of other things that can be done.

Frank rides his bicycle about 6 miles to come to work. He never missed a day, except one day when it was raining and he couldn't have worked anyway. He comes on time and doesn't leave early. He takes his hour for lunch and then goes back to work. Mario, on the other hand, comes late, leaves early, takes a long lunch and sometimes doesn't even come back after lunch.

Saturday Frank asked to leave at 11:00 instead of the normal noon because he had 'un viaje' (a trip). After I paid him, I started talking about something he could work on Monday. He said he might not be back on Monday. I said "Okay, then will you be back on Tuesday?" He said it was a long viaje. I asked, "Then you aren't coming back again?" He said probably not. Hmmm, I thought for a minute. "You aren't going to the US, are you?" Sheepishly, he said yes, that was where he was going.

While I don't believe in breaking laws, all I could think about was how dangerous it will be for him. We read about illegal immigrants all the time, but I think most people have no idea that these people are risking their lives to get to the US. Not to mention the fact that they are leaving their homes and families possibly forever because if they make it there, usually they won't risk the chance of coming home and trying to get back into the US again.

On the other hand, I know that young men like Frank have no hope in this country. Even with an education, jobs are hard to come by and the pay is terrible. People like Frank get construction jobs for a few weeks or a few months until they aren't needed anymore. Then they are back on the streets looking for any kind of work they can get. There is no severance pay, no unemployment, no social security, no health insurance, no welfare for most of the people in Honduras. At L.720 (US $38) per week, there is no extra money to tide someone over between jobs, and certainly no hope of ever saving up for a house or family.

Frank has a cousin in Houston. I hope he makes it there.
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