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Letter from Honduras: Nice news for the holiday

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 26, 2011 - Chemo passed fourth grade! Chemo and I celebrated, first, with a trip to Tegucigalpa. We started with a meal right at the Nankin Hotel as soon as we checked in. In Las Vegas, we eat chicken at least 12 times a week at lunch and dinner, but the fried chicken dinner at Nankin -- outstanding! You just can't help it, you gotta have it. Especially after a long bus trip.

We took Mema and Elio out to lunch the next day, to their favorite restaurant, Mirawa. Mema was feeling pretty bad, so we did our best to cheer her up. "Can I order something special?" she said. She had fish in mind. The server asked, "Small, medium, or large?" We drew a consensus for medium, but when it arrived, after all the other dishes had been served, it was as big as Flipper, I swear, but fried. "This is medium?" So, we all helped, you know, just to be nice....

Chemo got new clothes, but we did have to negotiate the soccer shoes. The upscale shop at the mall had a 50 percent off sale, but most of them were still way out of reach. And the clever clerk wasn't helping. "The blue ones? They look great on you!" I favored the black ones, at half the half price of the blue. When Chemo went over to check out some others, at full price, along the wall, I whispered to the guy, "You gotta help me. Please!" He got the message, and talked Chemo into the black ones. "They fit better, don't they?" But Chemo gets some credit for his own yielding to reality. And we compensated with Puma socks.

The victory lap picked up the next week, with our patented combo trip to El Progreso and Morazan. In Progreso we celebrated a couple more birthdays, of Argentina ("Tina"), the long-suffering matriarch of the family, and Yulissa, 16, one of her granddaughters, whose mother Santa fancies herself my "girlfriend." She wanted to know where the engagement ring was that I supposedly promised I would bring from the States. I distracted her by betting a number in the rather elaborate daily games she runs. I really don't know if it's a legal pursuit, but it keeps her and Catalina, her sister-in-law, pretty busy. I bet 65, Tina's birthday age. That was at lunch.

In the evening, we got pizzas and chicken wings at Pizza Hut for the official birthday party, as we waited for the numbers. At 9, they announce the Lotto winners on TV; these are Santa's "winners," too. When 65 actually came up in a row of four balls, I almost fell off my chair! "That's not OUR number," Santa quickly clarified. Of course not. "Our" number was the single ball that popped up in the next round, 49, but I kept insisting I had won.

Then, the next morning, to Morazan. I gave Maria a wad of cash as soon as I could, for some food, an un-birthday celebration, you might say. And she came through, with help from daughter Esly, about to graduate from ninth grade. Lunch was great, supper even better, featuring Maria's own fantastic fried chicken, and everyone could relax. But the thing I most enjoy is just watching Chemo play with the other kids, soccer, naturally. And we went "downtown" to get more soccer shoes; Chemo was being coy, but I figured out he'd promised to give a pair to his cousin Dionis back in Las Vegas. I couldn't get upset, since Dionis gets no "extras" from his own very poor family.

Besides Chemo, Dionis "graduated" sixth grade and hopes for a smooth transition to "high school" next year. It's a big gap to leap across successfully. Elvis Jr., "Tito," who had to "make up" four courses after seventh grade, graduated ninth grade free and clear, and looks forward now to a career in computers. It fits him perfectly, a sort of introvert, and left-handed, so you know he's intuitive. He can start with the stupid little MP-3 player I just gave Chemo, which we can't makes heads or tails of.

Mariela, daughter of Juan Blas and Maricela, graduated one step higher still, a "post-graduate" degree, three years past ninth grade, Honduras' version of a "bachelor's." She would love to continue to the university, dreaming of becoming a doctor, but money is not just a gap, it's the Grand Canyon. Really, only by my paying (with your help!) the family's weekly grocery bill all these years could she get even this far. And her sister Milena is right behind her, finishing a "bachillerato" in Progreso, with help from her young uncle Manuel, himself struggling to make ends meet, with a job in the morning and psychology classes in the afternoon.

The ceremony was lovely but so staid and formal that it seemed like a parody of a graduation. UNTIL Angel Ramirez took the floor. The graduates invited him, because of his wonderful help with their "practica" in La Ceiba, where Angel now lives. The principal Maribel Barahona did not even want to issue the invitation because Angel does not have a "degree." He's not credentialed, don't you know.

Angel was my first best friend in Honduras when his mother Olimpia cooked my lunch and supper in Las Vegas 30 years ago. So when I saw him at the head table, I was just begging the protocol gods to let him speak! He turned the place upside down. He had a tiny piece of paper with about six lines on it, and he gave a stem-winder on each point, more impassioned at every turn. His theme: You don't need a degree to succeed as a person! Guess who he cited? That's right, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc. As he insisted, he wasn't putting down "education," just the big head that may accompany it.

His own "graduation" was from alcoholism, thanks to A.A., and this is the first time I've heard him tell his story without tears, but I think he wanted to show Mariela and her companions how far he had come. I wanted to leap to my feet in cheers when he finished, but I settled for the photo op as the principal smiled politely when the class presented Angel with a plaque.

Mariela inspired her father to go back to school, to finish his own high school diploma in a program sponsored by the parish called "Maestro en Casa," a home-study routine with weekend meetings for tests and exams. Graduations here are as big as weddings and unfairly costly. A few years ago, when Padre Chicho heard Maestro en Casa was planning a big affair in Victoria, he put his foot down. "This is education for the poor! You're not gonna charge them for bottles of champagne on every table!" Things have been very simple ever since. It really is the best educational bargain around.

Maybe it doesn't qualify as "nice" news, but it's funny enough to make the cut, and that's how the Liberal Party has broken up into about 6 or 8 splinter "movements" to accommodate every zig or zag taken by Mel Zelaya, the president ousted in a coup three years ago. His egomania has not diminished, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that he's nominated his wife as the next presidential candidate for all the fledgling mini-parties. It's such an obvious power grab that even Mel's staunchest loyalists, priding themselves of course on their principle, are forcing Mel to agree to proper primary elections for SOME kind of competition for Mrs. Mel. But it's not just dumb; it's illegal. Any political movement that wants to be registered with the Election Tribunal to get a place on the ballot has to have its own, unique candidate for president.

Of course, "legal" is a pretty flexible word in Honduras. But it's gaining some new prestige, as Julietta Castellanos, with the strongest spine in the country, has single-handedly created her own "movement" to clean up the police, whose corruption has more layers than an onion, with new revelations and resignations daily. Her son was kidnaped and murdered by police, brazen enough to use their own squad car for the job, and she has been unrelenting in pushing for reform, using her position as president of the state university to get the word out. Even the president, Pepe Lobo, clears his speeches on the subject with her now. It's scary, no doubt, since she's making herself an obvious target for the international drug criminals who don't like anyone ruffling their feathers. But she'd also make a great candidate for president, compared to Mrs. Mel.

Happy Holidays to all, and God Bless Us, Every One.

About the Author

Miguel Dulick has lived in Las Vegas, Honduras since 2003.

There he has no projects, no plans, no investments -- only to share the life of the poor.

For years he has been sending reports back to friends and family in St. Louis, and the Beacon is proud to become a part of his circle.

Miguel Dulick has lived in Las Vegas, Honduras, since 2003. There he has no projects, no plans, no investments -- only to share the life of the poor. For years he has been sending reports back to friends and family in his native St. Louis. In sharing these reports, we offer a glimpse of how life is so different, yet so much the same, in different places.

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