December 30, 2007

A little gossip

Here's a little gossip but only for illustration purposes. ;-)

A couple of weeks ago, I asked Nora about her babysitter, her husband Carlos' cousin, just trying to get an idea if this was a permanent solution to her babysitter problem or whether she would be leaving again next week.

(Oh, by the way, Nora was sick the entire week before Christmas. I kept expecting her to show up each morning, but she never did, and then she decided it was time for her two week vacation − again, without a word to me! Incredible!*)

The cousin came to stay with them and is basically 'vacationing' but plans to find her own place eventually. (I assume that means that she will be looking for work, but it wasn't mentioned.) Nora not only cooks for her but also washes the cousin's clothes by hand − somewhere, because they have no running water or electricity in their one room, dirt-floored house that they share with their three children.

Nora said, with a kind of 'between me and you' attitude, that the cousin has said that she will babysit the children, but that Nora will have to pay her for babysitting. For example, if Nora works three days a week, the cousin will charge L.100. She said she won't clean or do anything else except prepare dinner the days that Nora comes home late. Okay, L.100 is not much, BUT WTF! I was shocked. What happened to the Hispanic culture of families helping each other out in times of need? What happened to everyone pitching in for the good of the family?

Nora told me that the cousin doesn't contribute a centavo to their already more than tight financial situation. Carlos hasn't been working regularly because of the weather and Nora has given me the impression that they have literally gone hungry. Nora certainly looks much skinnier than she did a couple of years ago (when Carlos was working for us) and a couple of her teeth have fallen out even though she's only about 30 years old. Apparently they have burned their credit bridges with the local pulpería (neighborhood food store) because Nora said that if she doesn't have money, they don't get food. They really are in dire straits.

I could not help myself and said, "Nora! That's not right. She should at least pay for her own food if you are going to pay her." Nora shrugged and said simply that "Nadie ayuda a nadie" (nobody helps anybody) and that she doesn't make an issue of it because she doesn't want to cause problems with Carlos' family.

Not only that, she said, but Carlos' brother has been living with them for some long period, something like two years. He usually doesn't work. He doesn't even help around the house. Nora buys his food and cooks it for him and washes his clothes. When Carlos' has enough work with his yard care business, he hires his brother and pays him. The brother keeps that money and doesn't contribute to the family food budget! And, of course, the brother has a cell phone.

Whaaaat? No, this can't be. I know El Jefe's family would never be like that. They always help each other. Even when it doesn't look to me like one family member is in a position to be able to help another one, they always pitch in together and find a way.

So I asked El Jefe about it. He didn't believe me at first, thinking I must have misunderstood. I assured him that Nora stressed that she HAD to pay the cousin. He said that Nora must have offered to pay her. Nora didn't mention that, but I said that perhaps she had offered, assuming that the girl would say, "Oh, no, you are providing me a place to live and food to eat so of course I wouldn't charge you." No such luck if that was the case. As soon as she has enough, I guarantee you that the cousin will be buying a cell phone. I'm 100% sure of that. I'll be sure to casually ask Nora that in a couple of weeks.

I don't think this situation represents a cultural difference. I think it represents a deterioration of the Honduran culture, where the trend seems to be look out for oneself and everyone else be damned.

* I'll have to write more about this another time.

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