Honduran Hearts, Oaxaca Woes
I was in Oaxaca, Mexico and took a ride outside of it to explore. I was there taking a cooking class. I needed a getaway from all the spices and mole. In a small town I found a large group of people. The town was Matias Romero. In a small field there looked to be over 1,000 people.
This is what I heard my president talk, or tweet, about. But they did not look like the murderers he labeled them to be. They looked like tired forlorn families.
I parked my rented car and walked in the dust. I saw a young woman in a faded torn dress looking for something in the dirt of the field.
I attempted at my Spanish after she looked up and smiled at me.
“Um…ayuda?” I stammered out.
“No, esta bien..It’s okay,” she said.
“You speak English?” I said. That was something I asked many times in a day.
“Yes. Si,” she said. “Maybe you can help me. I’m looking for my earring. The part behind it, fell, and the earring fell. It is special to me. A gift from my abuela, grandmother.”
I looked down through the brown patches of grass and weeds and looked.
“Are you from here?” I asked.
“No. I am from Honduras. Most of us are but there are some from El Salvador here too.”
She waved her arm to show me all the people. I saw tents and an old brick structure. There were many people walking in and out of it. As we spoke and searched I learned they were a caravan escaping the dangers of their countries.
“What kinds of dangers?” I asked.
“Where can I start. Muchos, muchos. I have a little sister, 13 years old. A gang ‘wanted’ her. The jefe, leader, was going to take her.”
“What about the police? Did you go to them?” I asked.
“The police chief was going to deliver her to the gang. No, we could not stay. I know families here whose brothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, mothers, children…killed. How do you say? Tortured. It’s a word I wish I never had to learn. In any language.”
She had long dark hair and the dark eyes of someone who had seen much and knew much. She appeared to be in her twenties.
“Are you going to stay here?” I asked.
Again she laughed.
“See those bushes and trees over there?” she asked.
I looked over to where she was gesturing.
“Yes… Si,” I said.
“Behind those is a small stream. That is our bano, bathroom. For all of these people. No, we cannot stay here. We are going to try and get to Mexico City. Then, I do not know.”
“The United States? The president of very much afraid of all of you.”
“Do you believe that? Those babies over there, with their mothers, or those muchachos playing, how can they be dangerous?”
Then I saw a glittering from the ground. I picked up an earring.
“Is this it?” I asked.
She smiled and hugged me. Then we parted.
I returned to my Gringo tourist cooking class. She returned to her uncertain life.
Play Writing class
They wait for the red light. Then walk with their signs held in front of them to the middle of the intersection, allowing for optimal view. The signs are cardboard from boxes. Probably discarded boxes, like their lives he thought as he watched them. Each sig is uniquely written and begins with the word HUNGY or HOMELESS. They end with God Bless You.
They stand at a spot they were trained to stand at. Then form the forlorn faces they were told to make. Look down. You are on display. Look up. Only smile when someone rolls down their window and gives you money. And then only a small smile, as if it is difficult to raise the sides of your lips. And it is difficult.
The street beggars are spread throughout intersections in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. Those are the ones he saw. There might be others. There are wealthier suburbs than Oak Lawn and Burbank and for sure richer ones than Hometown. They should be marching up and down in Lake Forest with all the CEO’s being driven to their glamorous downtown suites and offices and private pools. They should be marching on the North side for all the hipsters and lawyers and financial consultants coming out of their million dollar squished townhomes.
They, as he, were placed here for a reason. How did they get to their stations? One morning he found out. It was at a gas station on Cicero Avenue, the big busy highway they usually haunt. He watched as they were let out of a dark sedan. They walked out like Snow White’s 7 dwarfs except there was no Snow White and there were only 4 of them.
They wore the same beat up tired dirt filled spotted uniforms he always saw them wearing. The young sad man was the first to slowly step out the back door then the young woman with the curly blondish hair and short grey jacket exited. The man had a long light brown coat that did not appear warm enough for cold Chicago winds. A young woman he had never seen before left the car. She had dark short brown hair. They were all caught off guard and shared a smile, maybe even a laugh.
He could not see who was driving. He thought later he should have gotten the license plate. But to whom would he report it? The gas station was in the middle of 4 municipalities, and each one would say it’s the other’s responsibility. And what would he report? A sedan let out 4 people who were not cleanly dressed? Every car in every Chicago Public school would be arrested.
The young man in the light brown coat walked to the streetlight. He stood in military preparedness for the stoplight to change.
Green. Yellow. Red…. Yes, red. Time to walk.
He shuffled to the middle lane. His spy spied on him from the side of the gas station. Light brown coat does not immediately march from car to car. He stands with his face facing down and downtrodden.
After a half a minute or so, he moves. Approaching each car tepidly with an aura of hope.
No windows lowered. It was a cold spring day so most windows were up fighting against the elements and any and all invaders. Alas there were no donations for his cold outstretched hand. No honking horns to call him over.
Again brown coat to the middle. Again no money. This time, however, a window was lowered and a half eaten sandwich was handed out to him. He took it. Muttered a soft hello the spy assumed. Brown coat was not wired for sound. He put the food in his pocket.
This gave the giver a good feeling. She helped feed the homeless. In her mind this counted as a good deed and less time in her Catholic Purgatory.
Brown coat did not give the gift such high esteem. It was food she was going to throw out anyway. How have I gotten here? He probably asked himself. I show insincere appreciation for left over food? I was going to be so much. Now I’m here.
The spy drove off.
He drove down an angled road, State Road that did not go anywhere near across the state. It did not even cover the suburb if this was even big enough to be called a suburb. This street was a tributary that lead to the big flowing car river of Cicero. It was filled with drivers who thought they discovered a short cut. There were fewer cars here yet enough to justify the short haired female beggar.
She wore a long dark coat. She had no hat.
Spy parked into the corner of the lot next to where she plied her trade.
She too stood in the middle, looking down. Then approached. She had more luck than brown coat. Every car, except one, lowered their windows and handed cash. Spy thought he saw one generous philanthropist give her a ten dollar bill. She did not smile at the cash reception. She slightly nodded her head in acknowledgement and appreciation.
Spy thought of saving her. Driving away with her to the warmth of Florida, or at least Southern Illinois. He had about fifty dollars and she by now had a few dollars and some change. He would be better then a philanthropist. He would be her superhero.
Again, she was more successful than the other. She was more successful than spy would be if he were out there asking for donations.
Why her? He thought. Why were the drivers and their rush hour morning passengers so generous with her?
Then he made his wonderments more personal. Why did he want to escape with her and not the others? She was a young woman and he was an older man. There was that diagnosis. Maybe he could be her savior.
He drove to her to find out. He misjudged the stop light and had to return to her intersection three times.
He rolled down his window and looked into her brown eyes and round face. He held out a dollar then held onto her outstretched hand.
“Come with me. I’ll save you,” he said.
“No, I could save you. But I won’t,” she said. And she pulled away.