Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18, 2011 Chapter 3 (Unedited) Continued From Yesterday

Chapter Three

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras with a vengeance, tens of thousands dead, tens of thousands missing, in one short week, Honduras was changed for eternity.  My telephone bill was unbelievable during those days, as I continually called friends to make sure they were alive.  By the time Mitch hit Honduras with a fury, I had developed many friends in Honduras and had deep roots in the Banana Republic.  

Mitch struck Central America with such viciousness that it was weeks before the true magnitude of the disaster would be known. Hurricane Mitch was the most deadly hurricane to wallop the Western Hemisphere in more than 200 years. The Great Hurricane of 1780, killed approximately 22,000 people in several countries and was the only hurricane to kill more people than Mitch.  

Hurricane Mitch slaughtered over nine thousand people.  Flooding and landslides, mainly in Honduras and Nicaragua, were responsible for most of the loss of life.  On October 21, 1998, a tropical depression formed in the southern Caribbean.  One day later, that storm became a tropical storm and was named "Mitch". Tropical Storm Mitch moved very little over the next few days, drifting to the northwest, and gathering strength. A sharp increase in intensity occurred between the afternoon of October 23 and October 26 during which time Tropical Storm Mitch strengthened from a tropical storm with 60 knot winds, to a Category 5 hurricane. 

The entire country of Honduras was affected. It is estimated that there were over 5,000 deaths, more than 12,000 injuries, and over 8,000 still missing.  There were 13,000 people missing and dead in Honduras alone.  There were critical shortages of food, medicine, and water.  Hunger and near-starvation was widespread in many villages. Prisoners didn’t eat for more than a week.  Fever, stomach and respiratory illnesses were widespread. Helicopters dropped diabetic supplies, medicines and food into areas completely cut off by floods. 

Infrastructure was totally devastated. Entire colonias[1] washed away.  Pueblos[2] were no more, especially on the north and the south coasts.  In outlying areas, over 25 small villages in the northern part of the country were swept away.
It is estimated that 80 percent of roads, bridges and transportation infrastructure were destroyed. A full 87 percent of the country’s bridges were washed away.  Most secondary roads were impassable, deeply rutted or washed out. The San Pedro Sula airport and others were under water.

At least 70 percent of crops destroyed, including but not limited to 80 percent of the banana crop and near 100 percent of the shrimp farms were devastated. Crop losses estimated at over $900 million. Warehouses full of coffee, another of Honduras’ important export crops, flooded.  Corn crops devastated. The Banana Republic was banana-less.

Honduras roads were always horrific even before Mitch.  I clearly remember when I first started renting Toyota trucks in Honduras and driving myself.  Every few days I had to return the trucks for repair or exchange, not because I was a bad driver, but because they had been so abused by previous renters on the less than perfect roads.  Potholes were everywhere, some so deep that they went almost all the way to China.  I really needed a truck of my own, in Honduras, but my financier/husband was not so sure that a truck was necessary. On one occasion, when my husband, Mike, was in Honduras with me, we were forced to change rental cars four times in five days.  Each exchange took approximately 2 to 3 hours of paperwork, driving and explanation.  Mike was very frustrated by the end of the trip.  He left Honduras earlier than I did to return home to Kansas City and a few days later I received a message that he had purchased a Ford F-250, for me to take to Honduras. 

After I led the first volunteer medical team to La Paz, Honduras, in 1991, I was hooked, hooked like a junkie is hooked on drugs, hooked like a chocoholic is hooked on chocolate, hooked …totally completely one-hundred percent addicted!  I was passionate about helping these poor children with cleft lips and palates and club feet.  A short surgery and their lives were forever changed.  The change is evident in just forty five minutes.  As I began to spend more and more time in Honduras, I was traveling into areas, where many say that, “the devil himself is afraid to go”.  It was for this reason, due to the necessity of my movements into these dangerous and rough areas, that Peter and Tyanne insisted that I obtain a traveling companion, a bodyguard. 

These barrios, replete with murderers, gangs, robbers, drug addicts, rapists, pedifiles and common thieves, were home to the badly deformed children I am so passionate to help. It is not the rich who need the help.  It is the poor, the poverty stricken, those unable to afford milk and food.  A cleft lip or palate surgery is an unobtainable luxury for those people.  Normal advertising won’t work to find these patients.  You can put an ad on television, but they won’t see it, they didn’t have a TV.  I spendt hours looking for patients, Scotch taping photo ads to the windows of rural and city buses.  I spent hours in un-secure colonias[3], tracking down patients that I heard about through the Honduran grapevine.  Many times, I am informed of an age but no name is given, or I am informed of a gender but no age and only the mother’s first name.  Each time I go looking for one of these patients it is like looking for a needle in a haystack, but the reward is incredible. 

I hired Reynaldo, on the advice of the accountant at a local hardware store, where I did business.  He was skinny but muscular, hard faced, a cut across his cheek from a former fight.  Reynaldo spoke no English and had gold around the edge of each of his front and lateral teeth, not unlike the gold edging on my Palace Royal, Pickard china teacups, back home in Kansas City.  He always had six or eight very thin gold chains dangling from his neck, with an array of charms hanging from the bottom of each, a playboy bunny, a cross and a star of David each dangled, an obvious incongruity to all who recognize the meaning of each.  Reynaldo was a father, very devoted to his five children.  He always looked meticulous, clothes carefully pressed by his amachinada[6] of eight years.  He was very careful with me and always treated me like a queen, opening doors, making sure I didn’t step in holes, etc.  Looking back, I am still not sure how we communicated, but we did fine.  Infrequently we would get frustrated with each other, unable to communicate except with drawings and hand signs.  I was unable to speak Spanish because I took Russian in college, preferring the challenge of a different alphabet and a non-Latin based language.

I taught myself Spanish, after I hijacked an airplane and needed to speak Spanish for my eleven-hour hitchhiking event immediately following the hijacking and was unable to communicate.  I know what that sounds like, but it is true.  I hijacked an airplane.  The story is one of a kind, just one of many interesting days in my life. 

I was in Guatemala City, visiting the Col. Joaquin Maldonado family.  Rene Maldonado, their son, who was in medical school at the time, was soon to become the husband of my oldest daughter Jessica.  I had arranged for a medical team to go to La Paz, Honduras to perform cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries on children for the following weekend and had arrived in Guatemala City to pre-plan a medical trip to Guatemala for later that same year.  It was a Friday morning; I arrived at the Guatemala City airport in ample time to find out that I could not arrive in Honduras to meet my team on schedule; I had only one option to arrive on time.  I needed to hire a private pilot to fly me to Copan Ruins, Honduras and from there I could catch a bus to La Paz to meet my team.  I hate buses; I get bus sick and car sick if I am not driving.  But I had to do, what I had to do.  I had Mayo Clinic plastic surgeons and a full team waiting for me in La Paz.

I hired the airplane, paid with my credit card and hopped into the four seater high wing with two other people, a woman from the United States and a European man.  The man sat in the front co-pilot seat, I sat behind the pilot and the other woman sat to my right.  I was dressed in a skirt, heels and carried a gym bag with a change of clothes.  When we got up in the air, I started smelling the intense, potent, thick aroma of alcohol.  I suddenly realized that the Guatemalan pilot was intoxicated.  I knew just enough about flying to realize that the pilot was flying VFR[7] not IFR[8].  I didn’t know what those letters actually stand for but I knew the pilot was not using instruments but flying visually by looking at the ground, mountains, rivers and roads to tell where he was.  Since my husband, Mike, is a private pilot, I was aware that it is not permitted to fly into big heavy clouds without certain instruments and this plane didn’t have those instruments. 

I started praying fervently and was dutifully calm as every Christian should be when they have finished praying, until I realized that the pilot had every intention of flying into a cloud filled canyon, without instruments.  Panic hit like a tidal wave, I was nauseated then I was infuriated, corybantic, enraged and livid.   Who did this man think he was?  I was fuming mad as I ordered him to turn the plane around.  He didn’t listen and I commanded him once again.   The third time I told him to land the plane in a field or he would die because I killed him, not because he hit the side of a mountain in thick clouds, with the plane.  I was irate because of his insulate lack of respect for the lives of his three passengers, not to mention his statistical probability of leaving his five or six children fatherless.  The male passenger must have thought I was crazy until I told him to smell the alcohol on the pilot’s breath, then he suddenly grew worried also.  The woman passenger and I had already exchanged hand signals and crinkled nose expressions that let me know that she didn’t want to die either, due to this inconsiderate pilot’s gross imprudence.

I guess after my third ultimatum and the other woman’s resolute insistence, the pilot figured that it was imperative that he obey.  I was loud, but not irrational, although I had already made up my mind it would be better to live in a Guatemalan presidio[10] than to die slamming into a Guatemalan mountain.  He finally ascertained the fact that I was in no mood to listen to his macho excuses.  He had a decision to make, either put the plane down, or I was going to do it for him.  We landed in a wet and muddy field near Zacapa, Guatemala, the field was an abandoned military airfield. The tires went into the field halfway up the rims and I hopped out of the plane with him protesting in his broken English that I had to pay for him to get help to dig out the plane.  I suppose he wanted to depart the field to fly drunk back to Guatemala City.  I grabbed my bag and walked off, the other woman following close behind me.  I suppose that the pilot and the male passenger are still waiting to get pulled out, I didn’t wait around to see the ending to the story.  I had tracks to make and I needed to make them quickly in order to get to La Paz to meet my medical team.

By the time we arrived at the nearest dirt road, my high heeled shoes were covered inside and out with mud, but I was alive.  Gloria Dios[11], I was alive.  I stuck my thumb out and the first pickup that passed contained two men, a driver and a passenger dressed in Guatemalan military uniforms.  They unquestionably looked like a safe bet for a secure ride to where ever they were going and at this point I just wanted to get as far removed from the plane and the inebriated pilot as possible.  They took us to the nearest town and dropped us off at a gas station.  We entered a turquoise and pink painted bathroom, with cement tiles, painted by hand in orange and white swirls.  The bathroom was replete with a pila, a soured cotton string mop with a broken wooden handle sitting inside the pila, which nauseated me even more than the bumpy plane landing, the thought of dying and the first leg of my journey. 

I inhaled deeply, held my breath, slammed the metal door shut and balancing on one foot began to wedge myself out of my seemingly glued on pantyhose.  All the time making sure my naked foot didn’t touch one of the various rancid smelling pools of urination that mottled the floor.  I carefully placed my fingertips of my left hand on the repulsive bathroom wall, careful to avoid the brown spots. I did not dare to guess what the spots were, but surmising from the fact that there was currently no toilet paper and probably never was, I conjectured that the spots were most probably something I didn’t want to touch.  I balanced, left fingertips on the wall, washed all the mud off of one foot, and slipped it into a clean flat shoe, but without a sock.  Now at least I didn’t have to balance on one tacòn[12], one of my legs was completely free from the pantyhose and I was now ready to begin peeling off the second leg of my mud saturated Donna Karen pantyhose. [13] I repeated the process with the other foot, still trying to hold my breath, more nauseated by the moment. 

Once divested of my heels and pantyhose, I took off my skirt, but unfortunately the hem landed in the puddle of putrefied pee, undaunted, I wadded the wet part adentro[14] and I continued to change my clothes.  I squirmed into my Calvin Klein jeans, friction combating against the moistness of my legs, there was no towel and my plan of using my skirt to dry my legs with became an unavailable option after the skirt hem skimmed the disgusting floor.  The fact that I was entering the jeans at an angle in order not to accidentally touch the germ-ridden puddles didn’t aid my endeavor, but somehow I managed.  Finally, I slung open the hand fabricated metal bathroom door, gulped for fresh air, wanly smiled at my adventurous female companion, and emerged.  By now I was green with nausea but fully clothed in my Cole Haan loafers, a shirt, sweater, and blue jeans.  I sat down on what by this time looked like the cleanest curb in the world and pulled off my germ infested shoes, pulled on socks and then retreated to the aromatic bathroom, to the pila and with running water, from who knows where, washed my deplorably filthy hands, especially the fingertips on my left hand.  I then turned my one carat diamond wedding ring around on my hand, with the diamond towards the palm of my hand and prepared for the next blessing. 

I was ready to find my second ride of the day, the other woman following closely on my heels, I begged for a piece of paper and I proceeded to write the shortest composition of my life.  I carefully wrote in block letters the words: La Paz, Honduras on the scrap piece of paper that was generously given to me, by the toothless, but smiling, skinny as a rail, gas station attendant.  I am blessed that I am not shy, or I would still be at that gas station waiting for a ride.  I unabashedly showed my note to every car that stopped for gas.  Finally my new friend and I received a ride all the way to El Florida, the small immigration post on the border between Guatemala and Honduras. 

The car was very much like the Nigerian taxis I had experienced on past mission trips.  There were no door handles on the inside and the windows were permanently stuck open.  That was good, because to disembark from the car, you had to stick your hand outside the car to lift up on the outside door handle.  There was no inside panel on the door, so you could see the fractured glass in the down position and all the mechanism that makes a door handle, lock and window work.  The seat was extremely uncomfortable, the springs, although covered by fabric gave me bruises on my posterior annex  as we drove across the winding, bumpy, mud covered, mountainous Guatemala roads to El Florida.  For the entire three hour “free” ride, I thought of the taxi that I had rented in Nigeria, West Africa a few years before.  That car, actually had rusty springs sticking out of the seats.  On that Nigerian taxi ride I was thankful that I had my tetanus shots up to date, where I hopefully wouldn’t get lockjaw.  I didn’t get stuck just scratched and I lived to tell the story.  Now back to Guatemala.

The almost toothless driver, not to be confused with the toothless gas station attendant, chattered incessantly in an obnoxiously loud voice.  His verbal volume was loud in order to be heard over the noise of the car.  He babbled on and on the entire three plus hours as we wound through the beautiful Guatemalan mountain landscape.  I didn’t understand a word he said and the other woman who spoke Spanish hardly understood him either.  He stopped at regular intervals and talked to people to show off his two American “rubia[15]” girlfriends.  We must have been the highlight of his year as he bantered with his friends and stopped to talk to everyone on the way. 

When we finally arrived at El Florida, the border between Guatemala and Honduras, I gave him a few candy bars and he smiled almost toothlessly, ripped one open and was thrilled to have received the treats. 

Immigration at El Florida was an experience within itself.  The police on the Honduran side wanted to confiscate my passport for bribe money I am sure, but since I couldn’t speak Spanish, which meant that I had to use an interpreter and that the unscrupulous police would need to bribe the interpreter and I both.  I had 3,000 dollars for the medical team safely tucked in my underwear, pinned with a safety pin, like my mother had always taught me to do, and I was not about to get it out for anything.  I had five, one-dollar bills in my jeans pocket and that was all the money that I would admit I had.  With that and a bag of Snickers, I was determined to make it all the way to La Paz, La Paz, Honduras.

Finally after it was determined that I was indeed poor and unable to pay a mordida[16] and after I had asked for a telephone (there were none but I asked anyway) to call Col. Maldonado to ask for help from the Guatemalan side of the border.  It was then determined that I was probably not a security threat to Honduras after all and because I was a friend of a Guatemalan cornel, they suddenly waived the fees, that a few minutes prior were absolutely, peremptorily, positively mandatory to cross into Honduras.  They allowed me passage under the wooden post gate, called a tranca[18] or pluma[19] that separated Honduras from Guatemala.  My passport was appropriately stamped and I was on my way for the third leg of my expedition, the other gringa[20] still in tow.

I was tired; I had a headache from the first driver’s incessant talking and from the carbon monoxide that leaked into the car every time he stopped to chat with his friends.  The tail pipe to his car was non-existent and the muffler full of holes and dangling precariously from a wire clothes hanger and thus the loud noise of the car and the easy access of carbon monoxide to the interior of the car every time he stopped to chat.  It was, after all, a blessing that the windows wouldn’t roll up, or we all would have been dead.  That day I was actually grateful for the inspection process that we have in Kansas to make sure that cars are safe.  I have never again complained as I stood in line for a Kansas Inspection Sticker.

As I walked to the other side of the pole, counterweighted with a wire cage full of rocks, I was finally in Honduras.  Two rides down and only six more to go, I asked how much to ride the busito[21] to Ruinas de Copan[22].  The driver spoke a little English and repeatedly stated,” Pretty lady it is only tweeenty daaaallars for you and friend of you.”  I started walking up the hill, the other gringa behind me and kept saying I have two dollars not twenty dollars.    By the time we reached the top of the hill, he decided that two dollars would be an agreeable tariff.  The other gringa and I breathlessly slung our bags onto the busito and crammed into seats shared by the other passengers, Hondurans and Guatemalans who had just received entertainameinto gratis[23] with the purchase of their one “daaaallar” value ticket to Ruinas de Copan. 

The road from El Florida to Ruinas de Copan is dreadful at best.  It snakes through mountain passes, with one hundred eighty-degree bueltas[24] that make the hairpin curves of the Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas look tame in comparison.  The turns mixed with the putrid urination smell of the bathroom and the harrowing plane ride and landing as well as the carbon monoxide had taken their toll.  I was green by this time, minutes away from vomiting.  I began to look for an escape, but there was none.  If I regurgitated out the window, I would have to crawl over the middle aged man that was my busito partner, puke out the window and hope that it didn’t fly in on the people seated behind me.  By now I had no Kleenex and no way to ask for any and the proposition of getting the driver to stop was unthinkable.  I held it in, how I don’t know, but I held it in. 

Time was flying by and I had a team to meet in La Paz.  I was unsure of how far I still had to go, but was fairly sure that I was not going to arrive by the time the team arrived.  Upon arriving in the town of Ruinas de Copan I disembarked the busito and sat under a mango tree for a few minutes to see if the world would stop spinning.  The other gringa said, “Goodbye and thanks,” then headed off for a tour of the ruins, her final destination for the day.  She left me there on the side of the road, sick as a dog and with no Spanish.  I began to try to think of a way out of my predicament.  Where could I go to find someone who spoke English?  It didn’t take me long to decide that I would go to the bank.  Surely someone at the bank could speak English.  It turned out to be an effulgent idea.  I walked in the door asked if anyone spoke English and was rewarded not only with an English speaking bank manager, but with a very cool, air-conditioned office. 

I promptly asked the bank manager if I could borrow his telephone to call La Paz hospital where Ray, a grandfatherly team member from Saint Louis, Missouri was diligently helping Phyllis Van Horn a nurse from Kansas City area, set up for the team that was to arrive later that afternoon.  He graciously agreed and I immediately called the Hospital Roberto Suazo Cordoba in La Paz, the bank manager asked for the telephone receptionist at the hospital to get one of the gringos and bring them to the telephone to talk with me.  Ray was the chosen recipient of the telephone call.  I quickly told him that I would be in La Paz by 10:00 pm and to tell my husband not to worry about me until then.  No further explanation was in order, after all, I didn’t want my husband to worry and I didn’t know who I was going to be riding with. 

I then explained my quandary to the bank president who rented a taxi with me and took me to the Copan Ruins entrance where he talked to the parking lot guards and explained my predicament and that I needed a ride to La Paz, La Paz.  With my scrap sheet of paper in hand and a $10.00 bill, carefully abstracted from the wad in my underwear, and now safely tucked in my pocket, I was ready for the next phase of my journey.  That ten along with the three dollars left over from the five I had originally in the morning, I thought, surely is enough to get me to La Paz.  All I have to do is wait for a ride.  By now it was 2:00 PM.  I was hot, tired, half-sick, though feeling better after having my feet on the ground for an hour, but listo[26] to go.    I caught a ride with a school teacher and a bunch of kids in a small red Toyota pickup truck.  There was only room for two people in the front and the two men took their proper places, which meant I was relegated to sitting in the back of the pickup with about twelve teen-age kids.  I will survive, I will survive, I will survive”, I kept repeating to myself as we wound along the hairpin curves between Ruinas de Copan and La Entrada.  I could feel my stomach churning, the kids were noisy, but the ride was free.  Oh, God, NO!!!!!!!!

Barf, retch, puke, throw up, regurgitate, heave, disgorge, vomit, it was all the same.  It seemed as though it would never stop.  First I vomited then dry heaves.  I had not consumed food all day long since my very early breakfast at the Maldonado’s house and that seemed like days ago, not hours ago.  I didn’t think it would ever stop.  The kids got quiet and I couldn’t even say, “I am sorry.”  No Spanish and no way to explain that I didn’t have some deadly illness, but had been through the trial of my life in just a few short hours and that I was car sick. 

As we arrived in La Entrada, I went to the bathroom at the Shell service station and when I returned, the red Toyota pickup was gone.  I was not surprised, but they could have at least said, “Adios[27].”

Now I was stuck at a Shell station and I had no ride and no way to get one except to ask.  I didn’t fell like standing up, must less like asking strangers for favors, but I did.  I prayed, “God, my Father in Heaven, I need a car with air-conditioning to take me to La Paz, please send me one.”  The Lord sent me three Canadians with a SUV and I laid down in the back seat, fell asleep and to this day can not remember anything about them except that they took me to El Progresso and dropped me off.  I slept the entire way and vaguely remember them saying goodbye as they dropped me off where they stopped for gasoline. 

By now I was refreshed and it was late afternoon.  I caught a ride in the backseat of a van with a family of Hondurans all the way to the bus station in San Pedro Sula.  I handed the patriarch of the Honduran family the rest of the bag of Milky Way candy bars, he walked in to the bus station with me and helped me purchase a bus ticket, and I was on my way, again.  The ticket was one dollar and fifty cents.  So far I had spent two dollars for the busito and my unidentified female American companion had repaid me a dollar of that.  In total I had utilized two dollars and fifty cents and a bag of Milky Ways.  I waited until the bus pulled up and was too tired to fight the crowd.  By the time I got on the bus, all the seats were full.  I suddenly realized why the people were pushing and shoving to get on the bus before the incoming passengers had escaped.  Escaped?  Escaped a bus?  Yes, before they had escaped the bus.  The smell of sweat was like a football teams joint gym bag after it has sat in the sun for a few days and matured.  Oh, the smell.  I knew I was going to throw up if I didn’t get air and it looked like I was going to have to stand up.  As fast as the speed of light I devised a plan.  I wanted a front seat where the air would hit me square in the face from the open front door of the bus.  A dollar, I still had a dollar and a ten!  The almighty dollar, would it work in Honduras? I had a dollar and I was going to bribe someone for his or her front seat.  I had made my decision, now how could I communicate?  No Spanish, but I had hand signals.  I walked up to the man in the front seat and showed him the dollar and with hand signals asked him to move.  By now the entire bus was watching and all was quiet.  I grabbed his hand and he wouldn’t move.  I tried all I knew but he wouldn’t budge.  He had his seat and he was glued to it.  I made a split decision to offer him ten dollars and about the same time I made the decision, the people in the back of the bus started goading him.  He stood up, I handed him the dollar bill, and he reluctantly moved to the back of the bus to stand up for the ride. 

I was in for a treat.  This bus was not an express bus, it was the ordinary man’s bus.  It stopped every fifty feet to pick up more riders, the entire time we were in the city of San Pedro Sula.  Before long, the aisles were full, the smells were intensified, and I was nauseated again.  Bananas, cigarettes, baby piddle, sweat; the smell of my upper lip after vomiting for 3 hours, you name it, the smell was there.  On the bus, in the vivid, putrid redolence of mixed aromas, I leaned my head over on the shoulder of a man I didn’t know, my seat partner, and I fell asleep, my carry bag under my feet and my passport safely tucked in my bra.

Curves, curves and more curves.  Stops, slow downs, stops, people on, people off, babies crying, mothers screaming and Teresa sleeping.  From San Pedro Sula to Siquitapeque, I slept, totally oblivious to all that was going on around me, I slept.  In Siquatapeque, I was rudely awakened from my deep sleep by a plastic bag hitting me in the face.  A street vender had jumped onto the bus at one of the stops and had slapped me across the face with a bag of water as he walked down the aisle hawking his wares.  He sold fresh cashews and water in bags.  Did I dare?  Yes, I believed I would, but all I had was a ten dollar bill.  My tongue was so dry it felt like cotton.  I had no saliva to swallow, my dry dehydrated mouth would not produce saliva.  On second thought I had better not.  Oh well, I had gone all day and it was now 9:05 PM.  I could make it a while longer. 

After a hundred more stops, we arrived at the La Paz, La Paz, or so the driver told me.  I got off the bus at exactly 10:00 PM but there were no lights, there was no gas station, there was nothing but a solitary road.  In the distance, about four or five miles I could see the dimly lit streets of La Paz.  Oh NO!  A man got off the bus behind me.  There we were the two of us.  Standing on a non lit corner in the middle of Honduras, alone and it was 10:00 at night.  By now, my husband, I was sure was worried.  Ten o’clock meant ten o’clock and I was late. 

I had a wonderful marriage, two children and a ministry that took me all over the world.  My husband was not adventurous like I am, but he allowed me the freedom to do what I felt called to do.  Three years previously I had been in Ukanafon, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria preaching and leading street crusades for a month.  I stayed at Brother Moses’ home and one day we walked to town to meet with the mayor.  While in town a policeman, from a non-Effic tribe, had tried unsuccessfully to rape me.  He was assigned to be the police officer in Ukanafon, but he was from the rival Ibu tribe and when he saw me, he demanded to see my passport.  Of course I didn’t take a walk with my passport and besides that everyone in town knew me.  I was the only white person within sixty miles.  All of the people had been attending the crusades and everyone, including the impertinent, contemptuous, lustful police knew me. 

He demanded that Brother Moses return to his home for my passport and show it to him.  I thought all was fine, but the door had hardly closed on his office door, before he started grabbing at my clothing and ripped a couple of buttons off of my blouse.  I screamed at the top of my lungs and started for the door.  I struggled with the noxious, indecent, nasty spirited policeman, screaming and clawing at him until I was able to wrestle the door open and make my escape.  I ran directly into the mayor’s office, whom I had just met a few moments before and cried and emancipated myself by standing behind the mayor’s chair putting him between the insolent policeman and me.  In my mind I wondered if I was about to face the same type of situation, on the obscure highway corner close to La Paz, but just far enough away from the city to feel very alone.  I prayed.  “Lord, I know it is late, I know everyone is in bed, I know all the reasons why not, but would you please send me a ride anyway?  I need to get to the hospital.  In Jesus name.  Amen.”[28]

The first car passed.  They drove past the unknown man and I and left us standing alone on the side of the road.  The second car drove by and departed without even slowing down, we remained positioned unaccompanied on the isolated road.  Lights, dim headlights, coming towards us but from La Paz.   Well, at least it gave us some brief light.  The blue pickup stopped, or was it black?  It was too dark to tell for sure.  “Doctora Teresa?”  Who could possibly know my name and not know that I wasn’t a doctor?  “Doctora Teresa?”  “Si!!!![29],” I responded.  Knowing full well that I was not a doctor, but someone knew my name. 

The man got out of the pickup, opened the door for me and put me in the front seat.  I still didn’t know who he was, but he turned the truck around, put the other man in the bed of the truck and headed back to La Paz.  When we arrived at the hospital, I found my husband unruffled, the team running smoothly.  I also found out that the year before we had performed cleft lip surgery on my truck driver’s sobrena[30] at the La Paz hospital.  Tio[31] Guillermo was thrilled at the chance to be able to do something for me to show his gratitude for the help the SMART Team was able to give his niece. 

The dénouement of the situation happened as I arrived at the hospital 11 hours and 7 rides later, missing a bag of Milky Ways and with $3.50 less money in my pocket.  Upon my return to the United States I called VISA and refused to pay the charges for the private plane.  VISA gladly canceled the charges after I chronicled for them my harrowing day and what had happened with my drunken pilot.   His company however did have the audacity to contest the chargeback and to say that they flew me to the destination.  The other woman had paid cash and lost her money. 

That wild and crazy day is the day that I decided that I needed to learn Spanish, so I began learning, one word at a time. Somehow Reynaldo, my gold rimmed toothed bodyguard, and I communicated as I began to learn Spanish by asking “¿Cómo se dice esto?”[33]  Slowly but surely, one word at a time, I learned word after word, here a little there a little.  I purchased Honduran newspapers and tried to read them.  I procured a Spanish/English dictionary and with a yellow highlighter, went through the entire dictionary and highlighted all the words that were similar in English and Spanish.  This activity gave me thousands of what I call free words.  These are words that are almost the same in both English and Spanish.

abacterial: abacteriano
abandoned: abandonado
abbreviation: abreviatura
abdomen: abdomen
abduction: abducción
abductors: abductores
abnormal: anormal
abrupt: abrupto
abscess: abceso
abstinence: abstinencia
abundant: abundante
abusive: abusive

This was the method that I used for learning the language.  Slowly but surely I learned enough to communicate and to understand.  I am not yet fluent speaking, but I am fluent listening.

I will never forget the day that I was driving by myself in Valle de Angeles.  I had a summer cold and a runny nose.  I walked into the pulperia[34] and asked in Spanish for “papel para aaaachooooooo”  as I asked for the literally translated “paper for (sound of sneezing)” the woman behind the counter said “salude” the Honduran word for “bless you”, literally translated “health”.  I was sneezing and she was blessing me.  I said “NO, papel para aaaachooooooo”  again the woman behind the counter said “salude”.  I was sneezing again and she was blessing me again.  “NO, NO, NO,” I said, “papel para aaaachooooooo”.  The six or seven year old behind the counter looked at her mom and said, “Kleenex, ella quiere Kleenex[35].”

[1] Subdivisions or housing areas
[2] small towns
[3] Subdivisions located in the cities are called colonias
[6] amachinada: Spanish for live-in companion; this is an interesting word from the English point of view, a machine, and that is literally what many amachinadas are, machines to do work for their live in companions
[7] VFR  visual flying
[8] IFR  instrument flying
[10] presidio: Spanish jail, prison
[11] Glory to God
[12] tacòn: Spanish for high heeled shoes
[13] When my friend Melissa Breiwick hooked me on Donna Karen pantyhose, because they didn’t “fall down”, we would have never imagined that I would be pealing them off my legs in a deplorable Guatemalean bathroom.  This was the only time since I started wearing Danna Karen’s that I wished that they didn’t fit so well.
[14] identro: Spanish for inside
[15] Rubia: (Colloquial Honduran Spanish) blonde
[16] Mordida: Spanish for bribe
[17] there were no telephones, but the fact that I had asked to call a cornel, scared them into doing the right thing
[18] Tranca:
[19] Pluma:
[20] Gringa: American
[21] Busito: Spanish for little van
[22] Ruinas de Copan: Copan Ruins are Mayan ruins, I believe some of the most wonderful ruins in Central America.
[23] Entertainamiento gratis: Spanish for free entertainment
[24] bueltas: Spanish for turns or curves
[25] effulgent: bright, dazzling, brilliant
[26] listo: Spanish for ready
[27] Adios: Spanish for goodbye
[28] the Lord knows our needs before we ask
[29] Si: Spanish for yes
[30] Sobrena: Spanish for niece
[31] Tio: Spanish for Uncle
[33]  ¿Cómo se dice esto? : How do you say this?
[34]  Corner store
[35]  Kleenex, she wants Kleenex