June 29, 2007

El Otro Lado, otra vez (The Other Side, again)

little banana plantation, la ceiba, hondurasMario and Frank working on our 'banana plantation'

Frank, our "temporary" workman, hasn't come to work for the past two days.

A couple of weeks ago, he told me that he is heading back to
el otro lado (the other side), the U.S., the land of milk and honey, chasing his sueño americano (the American dream) to the place where everyone is rich. I'll be sorry to see him go but mostly I worry about what might happen to him on the journey. I half-heartedly tried to talk him out of it last time, but the reality is that leaving Honduras is his only hope of a decent life.

Last time he made it all the way to the U.S. border before he was caught by the Mexican officials and sent back. He was lucky that nothing bad happened to him. Lots of times these travelers get beaten, robbed, raped, or worse. See this recent article
in the Houston Chronicle where Honduran illegal immigrants were tied up in a house in Katy, Texas, while their captor (also Honduran) tried to extort more money from relatives.

Frank saw someone get his arm cut off on the last trip. The immigrants ride through Mexico by hanging onto trains or climbing on top of the train cars. If they can't stay awake, they fall and it's usually under the train. It's very common and part of the risk that many take to try to achieve a better life than they can find here in Honduras.

With it getting harder and harder to get into the U.S. and more and more people being deported every year, you might think that this emigration from Honduras would slow down. It won't. There is nothing here for the majority of people except a life of poverty and despair, so they will go somewhere. Maybe more will try to stay in Mexico or go to other countries, but they won't stay here. This Washington Post article about Honduran deportees is very informative.

Frank has been a pretty good worker since he came back although we have had some problems recently with him disappearing during working hours. El Jefe caught him sleeping in the unused maid's room once and another time in El Jefe's car! El Jefe has been wanting to let him go for quite a while now but I always have new projects that he can work on. It's a luxury to have someone working full time, but I feel that it is some small thing that we can do to help at least one person and of course, it helps us, too.

cleaning out heliconiasHe was very dependable at first, but began to slack off after he came back from his first trip. To make a long story short, a couple of months ago I convinced El Jefe to take him to a dentist to have a problem taken care of. When he came back to work (after a full two weeks off!), he was goofing off big time and in fact, was gone for several hours a day apparently visiting a friend at the construction site across the street.

inally one day, I spent most of the day looking for him. I was furious. The next day, we confronted him. I said that I was very disappointed that we had done something (expensive) for him only to be kind to him, without asking for repayment or even thanks, but he was repaying us by cheating us out of an honest day's work.

I told him that I would have to think very hard about the next person who needed help. Blah, blah, blah. I think he got my point and said "you're right." Usually in a situation like this, the person is insulted that you call them on what they are doing wrong and will immediately quit, so even though he agreed, I was a little surprised that he came back to work the next day.

He has been working steadily since then. We owe him two days pay for this week and I was going to give him some extra for the trip (prestaciones) so I'm surprised if he left without saying goodbye. The thing about Honduras is that when workers don't come to work, you just never know if they are sick or quit or just didn't feel like working that day. Usually they don't leave with you owing them money, though.

Well, despite all of that, Frank has been one of the best workers we've had and if he makes it to the U.S., I think he will do well. At least he's had a little experience with demanding gringos and he has learned a few things about painting, gardening, wood work, and the American work ethic.

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