My heart is breaking for neighbours of ours here in Copan Ruinas, whose teenage son was kidnapped 21 days ago while Paul and I were holidaying in Canada and the U.S. The family has yet to receive any ransom demand, one of those things that likely signal the worst for the poor boy.
Coincidentally, he drove me to work one morning a few days before we left on vacation. He was a brand-new mototaxi driver and I was his first paying customer. He seemed like a friendly and social guy ready to begin a new life as an adult.
Now I fear he's just another of the thousands of young Honduran men who are gone from this world for reasons that are never talked about, at the hands of criminals who are rarely prosecuted. All his family knows is that people saw him get into a non-descript grey car without licence plates on the dirt road that I walk to work on every morning, and he hasn't been seen since. It is not an unusual scenario here.
Having just heard the story of his disappearance, I arrived at work this morning to learn that the brother of the woman who cleans our offices was also one of the 800 sad souls who were ripped off in a fraud in July perpetrated against Hondurans with dreams of finding work in Canada.
With visions of making decent money picking fruit in Canada for a few months, the impoverished Hondurans had scrounged up $500 each to be able to meet the requirements. That's a small fortune for most Hondurans, and some of them had to sell their houses just to be able to raise the money. Alas, the whole thing was a carefully orchestrated sham, and they have all lost their money.
It's hard to imagine how devastating a loss like that is on the life of a rural Honduran, but the cleaning woman helped me get some perspective on it. In her tiny village of San Rafael, just a few kilometres outside of Copan Ruinas, more than 70 people lost virtually everything they had.
They sold their bean and corn crops that would have fed their families through the non-harvest months coming up. They sold their tools. They took out loans, in some cases from the kind of people you do NOT want to be indebted to, in other cases from family members who have now been plunged into a desperate financial situation as well.
Five of the villagers from San Rafael have already left their families behind to look for work in other parts of Honduras. This woman's brother, a single dad of two young children, expects he'll have to leave his village too. That same scenario is doubtlessly playing out in every village where impoverished farmers were tricked by clever predators who felt no shame at robbing from the poorest of the poor.
In light of all this, in light of all the things that go wrong every day for Hondurans, what always astounds me about coming back to Copan after time away is how friendly the people are here. I'm quite sure I've exchanged more friendly greetings with Hondurans since arriving bleary-eyed and exhausted yesterday afternoon than I did in all of my two weeks of travelling in Canada and the U.S. I don't know how people maintain their optimism and cheer in this struggling country, but the difference between here and there is striking.
I reject that "poor but happy" business, having talked to far too many Hondurans who have the same dreams as anyone for a better life for their children. Hondurans are definitely not happy about being poor, nor are they happy with the crime they experience as a regular part of life, with the absence of justice, with their indifferent and selfish government leaders.
But they sure know how to keep a smile on their face while they wait and hope for better days. I've really missed that easy friendliness you see here: the genuine curiosity about passersby; the eye contact; the willingness to stop and chat to anyone who's smiling back. A stranger arrived at the office looking for someone who wasn't in, and greeted me with a hug just for telling her that. Even when the stories are sad, the sheer eagerness to engage is uplifting.
Back in Canada, people barely look at each other anymore as they pass on the street, and sometimes the vibe is just this side of hostile. How can it be that people with so little can always make time for human kindness, and people with everything can't be bothered?