June 16, 2008

Will you be my bride?

Here we have yet another guest blog from Leslie (my new bestest friend) who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras during 2000-2002. Besides volunteering in Honduras, Leslie has also worked in Angola and is currently working in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Her blog is Back in One Piece.

Map La Esperanza, Intibucá, HondurasSomething I’m sure many Americans living abroad have to deal with is requests for help in going to that land of opportunities, Gringolandia, los EEUU… USA. On at least a monthly basis while living in La Esperanza, I would get a request from someone friend or complete stranger − for some sort of assistance in getting that person to the US.

The request was usually for help in getting people to the US legally. At one point word got out that if an American citizen wrote a letter of support for a visa applicant, the visa would be granted. That might have been policy at one point, but it certainly wasn’t in 2000. Explaining that it would absolutely do no good, I would often refuse to write the letter, much to the dismay and anger of the solicitor!

Every so often, I would get a request from someone to help them get to the US illegally. There were several Cuban doctors working in Intibucá province, doing two years of medical service in areas where there were no doctors. I struck up a friendship with several of them since their house was the best place for dancing in La Esperanza.

One day, Alfredo (not his real name) showed up at my house with a flower in his hand. He was very nervous and after awkward conversation, asked for my hand in marriage. This was strange because our friendship was nothing other than platonic − in fact, he was dating a friend of mine and he was over twice my age. He explained that the end of his two years was approaching and there was no way he could go back to Cuba. He was very opposed to the regime and the best way for him to stay was apparently to marry me and go to the US. I politely turned him down and frankly he seemed relieved. He did find a Honduran woman to marry and ended up staying in Honduras.

Early in my service I was sought out by a man who was trying to establish an organic farm on the outskirts of La Esperanza. Pablo (not his real name) was very dedicated to organic farming and wanted to open up an educational center on his property so he could teach other farmers the same techniques. He asked me to help him develop a plan to sell his organic vegetables in the famous La Esperanza market. I thought it was a great idea and we went to work.

After about two months of slow work, Pablo came to my house and told me he wanted to ask me for a favor. “Well, you know how hard it is to make it here in Honduras, the farm isn’t going well… so I was hoping you could lend me US$3,000 so I pay a coyote to go to the US mojado.”

I was shocked and disappointed. Here was someone who had a good idea and apparently the drive to make it happen and he wanted to go to the US through a potentially dangerous coyote so he could work, most likely, some menial job. I told him “no” in no uncertain terms, but I was curious as to why he would leave his family and farm. I asked him what he could do with $3,000 in Honduras. “Oh, I could really get my farm started, start a real business.” To me it didn’t make a lot of sense − why try to raise $3,000 to risk it on a dangerous trip to the US when he could raise $3,000 to get a business started in La Esperanza? He seemed to think his money would be infinitesimally multiplied in the US.

I wished him luck in his decision but really tried to discourage him from making the trip. We set up a meeting for the next month to look at how the organic market stand was going. I went to his farm on the scheduled day and found his wife and two young sons alone. “Se fue para los unite.” (He left for the US.) I asked how he managed to get the money, and she said that he paid the coyote $1,000 up front and then would pay the remainder once he had been in the US and was working.

I still visited his wife over the next few months. She said that he had managed to pay off the coyote and was working washing dishes in a restaurant in my home town of Houston, TX. She hoped to join him after a year.

Leslie, you are an angel for helping me out with these great stories. Leslie's other tales from the small town of La Esperanza, Honduras, are Telecom and snail mail in La Esperanza and The Post Office Lady wants contact lenses.

If you would like to submit a guest blog article, it will be greatly appreciated by me and my two bum fingers. Send it to me at my email address in the "About me" section at the top of the page. Photos are welcomed, too. Don't worry about formatting or spelling. You can send it as a text file or just include the text in your email.
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