March 16, 2013

Saying goodbye to another friend

David and his family from a few years ago (Identity obscured)

We first met David about 11 years ago when he was working for the constructor who was building our house. David was an albañil (brick layer) who came in towards the latter part of the construction as his specialty was the concrete finishing work. Smooth walls! David is a pro. Our concrete walls are actually smoother than our sheet rock walls. In fact, if you didn't know that most of the walls are concrete, you probably wouldn't guess by looking at them.

David is ambitious and eager to learn. He always has a positive attitude. One thing we liked so much about David was that he was willing to try the crazy things that the gringa wanted done. (Not really crazy, but let's just say maybe not the Honduran way.) He wasn't only willing, but he was eager to learn new things. Only once he told me, "No hay de otra." (There is no other way.) I said, "Siempre hay otra manera." (There is always another way.) I think he took it to heart.

A few months after we met him, he came to our apartment to ask to borrow 1,200 lempiras to buy a bicycle (the common form of transportation for construction workers in this part of the country). His bike had fallen apart for the umpteenth time and couldn't be repaired any more. He was an honest, hard working, and sensible guy, but with a wife and small child, he wasn't able to save any money for anything. We lent him the money and he paid us back every week as promised.

When most of the construction was done, we kept David on for a few months to finish up several things. Later we contracted with him to build our muro (concrete wall around the property). He finished on time and on budget.

His wife had a baby girl during this time and they named her middle name after me! What an honor.

Occasionally he would bring up the idea of going to the US. I always tried to discourage him, partly because I don't believe in breaking laws and partly because I know that it often does not have the happy ending that immigrants think it will. I joked that the roads really are not paved with gold and more seriously told him that the cost of living was much higher there, that illegal immigrants are sometimes taken advantage of, and that the journey is very dangerous.

Over the years, we lost contact for a time. His old phone number didn't work anymore and he had moved. Finally a year or so ago, El Jefe ran into him in town and we reconnected. David came to visit a few times riding a motorcycle. He had moved up in the world. He was running construction projects building houses and was doing pretty well. He now had three children and his wife said that's it (no mas!). (She was pregnant with the third child in the photo at top.) I joked that the next time we saw him, he'd probably be driving a Prado (expensive Toyota pickup).

Then his motorcycle was stolen. Since he was paying for it on credit, he had insurance but still had to pay a hefty deductible. Soon after that he thought he saw it and recognized the guy driving it. I asked him if he went to the police, but I knew what the answer would be: No, it's too dangerous. The criminals could come after him or they might even be working for the police. That's life in Honduras, where you are as afraid of the police as you are the criminals.

Then David had an accident while he was driving his new motorcycle. He swerved to avoid being hit by a taxi and lost control of the motorcycle. The taxi driver continued on, leaving David lying by the side of the road with a badly damaged leg. That's also life in Honduras. We know four people who have been victims of hit and run drivers. Each was left lying injured by the road with no more care than if someone had hit a squirrel in the road. So now he had medical expenses, repair expenses, and couldn't work as much. Luckily he could still supervise his current construction project but couldn't do any work himself for awhile.

A few months ago we had a small job for him doing the wood ceiling on our upstairs terraza. He does some carpentry work, too, and did a great job on the ceiling. He came on the weekends to get it done. Later we invited the whole family over. We hadn't seen the little girl since that photo at top was taken. I was amazed when her mother told me that she couldn't even sleep the night before she was so excited about seeing the gringa lady she was named for!

David wants to build his own house and quit paying rent. He has a piece of land and the ability to build it but not the cash for the materials. It's not uncommon for people to not pay for work done and David, like many people we know, has been cheated or made to wait months to get his hard earned pay. Now the construction business is in a downturn here in La Ceiba. Finding new projects is getting harder and harder.

David dropped by one Monday morning in a surprise visit. I invited him to stay for lunch. I left him and El Jefe chatting while I went to work on lunch. Passing through the sala one time, J said to me, "David is here to say goodbye." "What!?" I exclaimed, though I already knew what he was going to say. He is going 'mojado' to the US, to try to make and save some money for three years so that he can build a house.

Beside the danger in doing so – many Hondurans have been killed or kidnapped in Mexico – and the risk of being arrested and put into prison in the US, all I could think of is his family. His wife has never worked. David wanted it that way. He feels that it is the man's job to take care of the family. His children are adorable, bright and outgoing, due in no small part, I'm sure, to having good parents and good solid church-going family situation. What will happen to them?

Honduran kids
The kids acting silly for the camera

His oldest son is 12. He worships his dad and emulates him in so many ways. I'm sure that he will take over as the man of the house but what if he starts running with the wrong crowd or gets pressured into joining a gang? It happens everywhere. What if David can't find work or can't save enough to come back in three years? Christian would probably quit school to go to work to help his mom. What if Delmy and the children become just another impoverished and abandoned family? David believes that God will look out for him and his family and that going to the US is his only hope to be able to build a home.

During lunch, they were talking about how hard it is to get ahead in Honduras in even the most meager ways and about all the people they know who have left. J's nephew left a few months ago and saw one of his fellow traveler's die. The boy fell asleep and fell off the top of the train and was crushed to death under the wheels. "What a country this is when the only way to improve your life is to risk your life to leave it!, I said, just before I burst into tears to the surprise of everyone there, including me.

I don't know why this affected me so much but I was teary all afternoon. I guess it is because I believed that David and his family were doing okay. Not great. Probably not even comfortable by most standards, but okay for a family in Honduras. They gave me hope that if you worked hard and were enterprising and honest, that you could live a decent life. I've met many women whose boyfriends or husbands left with the same good intentions but eventually just abandoned their wife and the children left behind. I can't imagine that David would ever do that. He's too honorable a person, but just the separation for who knows how many years would be devastating for any family. It's just so depressing!

After lunch, David left to catch a bus to Guatemala. He left with only the clothes on his back and a little money in his pocket. He didn't even carry a backpack as a backpack sets the traveler up to be a target in Mexico from those criminals who make a living extorting thousands of dollars from the families of the mojados. Oh, he did carry a couple of my empanadas for his dinner.


The other day there was a poll on television. "If you had the opportunity to emigrate to another country, would you?" When I last saw the results, 60% said they would leave.


This happened about a month ago. I wrote this the day that David left but had second thoughts about posting it. I don't like to post about friends or family, but sometimes I get frustrated that there isn't much left to write about. Then Thursday we had a tearful visit from Delmy, David's wife, and I wanted to tell their story.


Related articles:

March 17: Where is David?
March 19: More sequestered Hondurans in the US
March 25: No news is not good news

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