ESTA ES SU CASA--SEPTEMBER 2010
Though it must surely pale in comparison with Ted Nugent’s current concert tour, “Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead,” I intend to make the most of my first-ever Fall visit to St. Louis, September 22-October 20. For one thing, it’s my birthday! Turning 62 on October 12 not only qualifies me for a little Social Security, but also means I will have outlived my father Michael Xavier Dulick, who died of a heart attack in 1976 (during Sunday Mass, no less, where the reading was from the book of Daniel, “Michael the Archangel will rise, the great Prince of your people”) at age 61. Regrets abound, I wish we had been closer; since he was a doctor, a general practitioner who made house calls his whole career, I have often wished I had followed his lead, for the help I could be in Honduras. But friends have celebrated my birthday in absentia for years; it’s time I joined them!
Speaking of angels, divine intervention may be required here in Honduras, just to get kids back to class. The teachers have been on strike for a month. Same old, same old. They march, the police beat their heads in, the media ignore the real issues. There is one new twist; parents are breaking into empty schools to give classes with “volunteers.” Mel Zelaya, the former president ousted in a coup in June of ‘09, is rooting on the striking teachers from his palatial exile in the Dominican Republic--anything to undermine what the government calls “law and order.” Word is, Mel is throwing cash around to keep things stirred up, but, hey! who is financing these “Back-to-School” folks? Under orders from the current president Pepe Lobo, the police are cutting the school locks off for them!
What are the real issues? First of all, the government has robbed the teachers’ pension fund--repeatedly. Mel did it himself, but it’s a non-partisan corruption. Then there’s the “minimum-wage” controversy. Public employees’ salaries are multiples of the minimum wage, which in Honduras means DAILY wage. Businesses want to change it to hourly, to short workers’ pay, hiring them by the hour instead of the day. So all the labor unions are marching, too. What are we talking about here? Crumbs! Fermin, practically at the top of the scale, makes about $500 a MONTH as a teacher. Some pimply-faced fryer at McDonald’s in Creve Coeur makes that in a week or so, just to stuff their iPod with more crap from Eminem. So you can imagine what some poor campesino turning the soil for a fat-cat landowner (or, as my mother, who by the way, lived to age 82, used to call them, “rich-bugs”) has to look forward to.
But the biggest issue is “privatization” of education. A law that the teachers already defeated twice--in 2004 and 2006--is back in Congress. It calls for, among other things, tuition in the “colegios” (or high schools) and university degrees for teachers. This is practically archeology! Thirty years ago, it was tuition that kept Wilfredo (who, by the way, turns 45 on October 12) out of high school till he was 25, because his family couldn’t afford it, when at last the law changed, and seventh, eighth, and ninth grades were “free” like kindergarten and primary school. Despite his age, Wil jumped at the chance to continue his education, and is now everyone’s favorite teacher at the colegio in Las Vegas. (A previous CASA talked about the Nationalist regime in Victoria trying to push him out of his job, because Wil’s a “Liberal.”)
As for university degrees for teachers, sounds reasonable, right? How far would an applicant get at Parkway with only a high-school diploma? But here, the need is so great, and the poverty so debilitating, that without teachers who had only the education they could get for free, thousands of tiny mountain villages would be utterly lost. Now, technically, the public university is “free,” but if you are from the campo, how do you get there? where do you live? how do you eat? Wilfredo is currently working on his degree, a class or two at a time, with costly trips to El Progreso every weekend.
Speaking of ancient history, when dear old Don Vicente Martinez died at the age of 80 a few weeks ago, it reminded me of my early years visiting Las Vegas. Don Vicente had the only car in town, a Jeep, and practically the only store. In those days, there were no buses, not to mention bridges, so every morning about 5:00 a.m. he’d take folks to Victoria for 50 cents apiece. We’d stand in the street in the pre-dawn light, listening for the motor--would it start today? Sometimes he’d crank and crank till it finally engaged and a sigh of relief would go up. Every now and then, after repeated failures, he’d come out into the street and call, “Gonna need a push today!” Of course, if it had been raining during the night, we’d hold our breath till word came if the river was too deep for the Jeep to cross. If it had gone up, maybe we could go later, once it had flowed downstream some. The store, emptied of its goods and shelves and display cases, etc., for the novena of prayer following his death, was full every day of mourners, my borrowed chairs providing only a portion of the necessary seating. Since then, it’s so strange to pass the place, the doors shut for the first time in anyone’s memory. His ancient truck, long ago abandoned to the weeds, still sits in the back yard.
Dionis (pronounced, believe or not, “Johnny’), we hope and pray, has a long life ahead of him I wanted to make his 14th birthday on August 17 a little extra special, to take away some of the sting of his brother Dago’s death in July. As nice as it was, with a big, luscious cake baked by Carolina, no one could forget Dago, least of all me. Every time I looked at Marcos, 23, I almost had to look away, so close does he resemble his brother Dago. But Marcos is married with two little kids. The littlest, Lindolfo, got so sick recently (poor thing, malnutrition more than anything) we had to get him to Dr. Wilmer in Victoria. But these little lives--who can put a price tag on it?
School may be out, but the doctor is in. Last Friday, a team of medics took blood samples of every kid under 15, looking for signs of “chinche” or “chagas,” an ugly little bug whose bite can lay dormant for up to 16 years--and then kill you, or reduce you to a paraplegic. Not too long ago, my friend Angel, who just turned 50, celebrated his amnesty from a bite he got 16 years ago. “I’m gonna be all right, now.” I was afraid I’d have to tie Chemo down like those dogs I talked about a few CASAs ago that got rabies shots, but he happily (?) submitted to the tiny prick in the forefinger, then squeezed out few drops on the little stamp of test paper. We kill a couple “chagas” in my house every week, but God only knows when results of the blood tests will come back.
Chemo got his teeth cleaned here, too. Travel to Tegucigalpa being a little chancy, what with teachers burning tires in the streets, rocks flying through the air, and rockslides from all the recent rains collapsing retaining walls and crushing cars, and underground torrents ripping sinkholes the size of a house in a boulevard, we took advantage of a “special” that Doctora Gabriela was running. Her drill wasn’t working, so she polished by hand, and gratified us further by declaring Chemo cavity-free. She’s so young, but I had to keep looking at her as she recalled the days when she was a little girl and she would play with the toys I used to bring down, especially the View-Masters. “That was my favorite!” You know, everybody loved them. Problem was, they’d wear out in a week or so of constant use. But, out of curiosity, I went online. They still exist, and, darn it, they’re still expensive. I thought by now they would at least have figured out how to mount the tiny pictures in something more durable than a flimsy disk of cardboard, and maybe make a viewer out of, shall we say, space-shuttle tiles. But I gotta pick up a few anyway, in St. Louis, especially since Gabriela herself has View-Master ready child.
Hey, I might as well go to St. Louis, since our pastor Chicho’s going to El Salvador! A couple of weeks ago, at the end of Sunday Mass, during which he preached a particularly passionate and heartfelt sermon about God’s love for the poor, he announced his transfer to what amounts to a desk job at the Jesuit Provincial’s office in San Salvador. That sermon, in effect, was his good-bye. Maybe the Jesuits are giving him a sort of vacation, after 12 years of two and three Masses a day, up hill and farther up hill, visiting a hundred villages at least twice a year, some places still accessible only on foot, an hour or two after you leave the car behind. And I was like a Dead fan, following him whenever I could if the village was within my access. What amazed me was, he always gave his all. I don’t care if the congregation was six women and eight kids and two old men, Chicho would preach like St. Peter on Pentecost, who was so excited people thought he was drunk! He is no doubt exhausted, but, desk job or not, they won’t be able to keep him in an office for long.
We did get one last chance to say good-bye to Chicho. A big event, already planned months before Chicho’s announcement, was held in Las Vegas just last Sunday, August 29. Padre Jaime, who is now the pastor, has been very actively promoting the so-called “Comunidades Eclesiales de Base” (C.E.B.s) since he became Chicho’s assistant a couple years ago. These are little neighborhood “churches,” seedlings, you might say, to foster the faith in a living community. Jaime wanted to get all the C.E.B.s together. “Expect f800 to 1000 people.”
O my God! He was way off. They just kept coming and coming. It was like Woodstock without the mud. At least 1500 folks swarmed in, doubling the population of the town. But somehow, we pulled it off. We gathered in Paraíso, just across the river, where there was coffee and rolls for everyone. Then we proceeded to Las Vegas, to the only place spacious enough for such a crowd, the grassy, shady yard of the school. (Thank God, we weren’t competing with classes--we used every bench and chair in the place, and half the classrooms.) A stage had been built and decorated like a Beyonce concert, Elvis and his band and the choir provided all the music, the kids dramatized the Gospel reading, the Bishop led the worship, using the occasion to formally announce Chicho’s new assignment and Jaime’s upgrade, along with Padre Sebastian, who will be the new assistant pastor. Chicho just beamed. He was looking out at the crowd, virtually everyone of whom he knows by name, taking pictures himself, and every now and then, burying his face in his hands, overcome, I guess, at the thought of leaving us.
After Mass, the food! Groups of women had cooked nacatamales for days, and their husbands carted them by the hundreds to the school early Sunday morning--in wheelbarrows! We thought, We’re gonna run out; but no, just like the multiplication of the loaves in the Gospel, “all ate and were satisfied.”
A more permanent departure was another young man about Dago’s age who died suddenly, Dixi, 23, recently deported from the United States. Dixi was staying with a couple brothers in San Pedro Sula, including Uvener, 20, who left home here in Las Vegas a month or so ago to look for work in the big city. Dago was electrocuted, you will recall. Dixi had a heart attack! At age 23, this should be impossible! Apparently, the doctors thought so, too. Uvener said they took Dixi to three different clinics after he collapsed in terrible pain. The first place gave him a shot. “He’ll be all right.” The second and third places, well, let’s just say the damage was done. They brought his body home to Las Vegas in an inexpensive casket he same night in a borrowed car. The family waked him in a torrential rainstorm, but friends managed to get the grave dug the next morning.
Unlike Dago’s death, there was not so much commotion, maybe because the family keeps to itself pretty much. But I had to think, How long had Dixi been sick? Was it a congenital disease, such as what eventually killed my father, or such as Chemo’s? Oh God! I prayed again in thanksgiving for Chemo’s operation. No one in Dixi’s family ever goes to church, but Reina, Dixi’s mother, after the delegados offered prayers before the burial, said, “You’ll come back for the novena, won’t you?” It’s a chance for Dixi to grow even in death, a seedling, as it were, for his own family’s “church.” We’re on Day Four right now, in case you would offer your own thoughts and prayers....
Included, one of Chepito’s latest drawings.