As I stepped down a blank street in Honduras, my stomach rumbled. It’s hard to ignore that kind of protest. I headed to the corner and binged on pasteles, those delectable Honduran minicalzones stuffed with meat and potatoes. I scarfed down six, wiping the grease from my face to my shirt.
I showered and did my hair up nice. It was my second Saturday in Honduras, and I was geeked for a night out on the town. With a single girl to single guy ratio of four volunteers to one, I had my sights set on one thing: meeting Ivana on the dance floor.
Back home in the States, my friend Korey glided from bar to bar along Franklin Street’s main corridor, peered up at the stars, and wondered whether I was having as much fun as he was; Tony raised a toast to my trip and all of the sightly young lasses I was destined to woo; Brian typed out an e-mail to remind me that, no matter the hemisphere, the less I said to a girl at the bar, the better.
In Honduras, Chris liked my odds; Danny pondered his own play for the evening; John didn’t care either way.
The homies. See, when I started planning my trip, I made some good decisions, had some fairly perceptive foresight, and I made a few mistakes, didn’t think some things through as thoroughly as I should have. I did make one very good decision, though: I decided not plan my journey too strictly. If I was having a great time in Nicaragua, I was going to hang my hat for a little longer, whereas if I was bored in New Zealand, I could pack my stuff inside of ten minutes and hop on a plane to another destination. Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, for example, was a spontaneous weekend trip, and I was able to make a last-minute decision to spend an extra day in Copán before meeting my volunteer group in Honduras.
In El Porvenir, we sat for a dinner of fried chicken at Juaquin’s, and everybody welcomed me with cheer. Belinda studied computer science at UNC. Jennifer hailed from Ohio. Sarah from Virginia. Many were European. Between mouthfuls of chicken, they filled me in on what to expect over the next months. Sometimes with laughter, sometimes with earnestness, they told stories of which volunteer to call if I needed something fixed and who had the most creative game ideas for the children.
Less than a week passed before I was working out with John and Chris. Bro time. We’d push ourselves through these tough workouts in the basement of the big blue beach house—P90X Legs and Back, Kenpo X, Bi’s and Tri’s. Of course, all this was mostly a cover to allow us to really get in touch with our virility. Passersby could sense the bromance kindling. All this time we had to spend around women—the ratio didn’t favor guy time. We talked all of this guy talk, used deep voices, and gave each other fist-pounds after a good set and talked about how our pecs were sore from the workout that we’d crushed the day before. Then we would heap big-ass piles of pasta onto our plates and watch Bloodsport—in which Jean-Claude Van Damme’s acting chops, incredibly, make Chuck Norris look like Robert De Niro—and continued to talk, mostly with our mouths full, about nutrition and health and techniques for gaining muscle and losing fat.
“A gram of protein for each pound you weigh,” Chris said, speaking with experience. His physique, stout and well formed, hadn’t changed much since his college days as a wrestler.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Tuna, chicken, peanut butter.”
“We’ll start making milkshakes,” John added. A former football player, he was tall and sturdy, but fleshy around the middle. Over the course of his time in Honduras, he eventually lost twenty-five pounds and looked almost literally like a new man. He added, “I don’t know if they’ll have tubs of protein powder here, but I’ve seen bags of powdered milk that could suffice.”
And we’d all grunt our approval.
These guys were amusing, always entertaining. Their motivation to travel, like mine, was not an escape or a search necessarily but just a desire to take a moment to see what else was going on in the world.
After midnight, John frequently shuffled through the living room on his way to or from Jennifer’s room, wearing nothing but a pair of four-leaf-clover boxers.
“John!” I would proclaim. “Where are your pants, kid? Your pants, man. They’re missing! Where are they?”
He would pause and look at me seriously. “Adam, I will tell you this, sir. That is a fair question, my friend.” He’d cock his head back to stare up at the ceiling in puzzlement, deep in speculation. “A very fair question, I’ll tell you.” More speculation as he rubbed the stubble on his chin. “I’ll get back to you. Be right back.” And then he would scramble off into Jennifer’s room until the sun rose.
Meanwhile, Chris had a way of challenging my ability to think critically. In searching for the next horizon he’d left behind his life as an attorney in Vegas. Every other morning I had a different philosophical discussion with him, and in the early evening, reflection. I mostly listened, Chris probably having read five or six books to each of my one over the last ten years. He opened up, hands waving enthusiastically, on American political strategies, social ethics, and his future professional possibilities without having to join the nine-to-five grind. We discussed the best locations to meet women, and we debated the merits of Jesse Ventura’s American Conspiracies, all the while chowing down a high-protein meal.
It took delicate practice to find the balance between seeing as much as possible and sprinting through this trip. Before leaving home, even after committing to being adaptable, I still had a rough itinerary of the places I wanted to visit and a general idea of what pace I wanted to maintain on my journey. But when I relayed my forecasted itinerary to my friend Scott McKaig back home, he objected.
“Shep, the world has one hundred and ninety-seven million–ish square miles. The countries where you’re going in Central America are less than one one-hundredth of one percent of that area. Why so long in one place? Also, no South America? Chile? Argentina? Brazil? You’re not going to meet any Brazilian women? And no Africa? At all? That’s a tremendous place. Give me Egypt, at least. The pyramids! Jesus. You’re racist.”
I told him I was excited to one day visit Africa and South America and Eastern Australia and the spots in Asia and Europe and everywhere else that I planned to skip on this trip, but I couldn’t see it all, not all at once.
Before I left, I talked to friends and family—heck, even strangers—about my destinations. Some people offered great recommendations; others voiced their disbelief that I was going to spend a full year abroad and I wasn’t going to Machu Picchu. Or the Taj Mahal. Or the Great Wall. Or Fiji. Or England. Or Greece. “You’re going to miss Scandinavia altogether?” Anki asked, puzzled, back in Guatemala. “You’re going to be in Europe and you can’t just go up there for a week? Shame.”
But this was my trip. I had to do it the way I thought best.
You cram a thousand people in a room, and you’re going to receive a thousand different itineraries, all passionately voiced. Even then, those itineraries aren’t going to play out as prescribed. That’s the beauty of travel in the first place—that we get to create our own journey, and even with all of our planning, we still don’t know what’s going to happen. The road that lies ahead of the traveler is marvelously shadowed, and that mystery gives each trip an even stronger feeling of adventure. Then, when it’s all over, you swap stories with the understanding that someone may take you up on your recommendations or they may forge their very own path instead. Just as you did.
Scott made an interesting point, however, about the duration of time I’d budgeted each place. A month in Guatemala; two months in Honduras; a month in Nicaragua; a month in Costa Rica; a month in New Zealand; a month in Australia; two months in Asia; two months working around Western and Central Europe; my last month in Italy. I could have bought a bus pass and seen thirty hot spots and every country in South America in three months.
But there are vast differences between being a tourist and a traveler. A tourist passes through momentarily for a few snapshots and a ride on the town’s zip line, while a traveler hangs around a bit longer to get to know the place more affectionately. The traveler wanders up and down side streets and back alleys, poking their head into every crevice of a city. Neither one is better than the other. Some places I’m a tourist, and others I’m a traveler. I enjoy getting lost and I likewise don’t mind ordering a package deal and hopping on a bus for a day, crowded between a bunch of visor-wearing, fanny-packed retirees desiring to learn about history and culture. Two days in Copán sated my appetite for Maya ruins, but I needed a month to really appreciate Beatríz and Antigua the way I did.
I’ll never be Honduran. I could lose six inches off my height, crop my hair and dye it black, learn to roll my r’s, master the Bachata, and open a produce stand out of the back of my pickup truck on the curve leading into La Ceiba, and I’d still be a North Carolinian. I dip my toes into someone else’s world, try on their culture and lifestyle, and return it on departure. This is okay.
But along the way, I can meet John and Chris and Jose, and perhaps shake their hands longer than “How ya doin’?,” “Where ya from?,” and “Where ya headed?” This, after all, is how you find the best bars, restaurants, and other spots off the Gringo Trail.
Danny, a native Honduran, guided a group of us outsiders to the uppermost waterfall of Pico Bonito, pausing along the way to educate us on the flora and fauna and to entice us to eat termites—Honduras’s version of trail mix.
“They feed on wood,” I told him.
“They taste like carrots,” he declared, swallowing a pinch of ten.
“Really? Hm. Cool. Hey, you know what else tastes like a carrot?” I asked, grinning. “A carrot.”
“Protein,” he reasoned, eyebrow arched toward his scalp.
I spent four minutes chewing through a finger full of termites. (When one eats a termite, he or she ought to give it a head start on digestion.)
Danny spent his Saturday leading us up a mountain to a vacant swimming hole. An eighty-foot waterfall crashed just on the other side of those boulders, a football toss away. He brought us to this wonderful, remote place all in exchange for, well, nothing. He didn’t have to do that. But he got to know us, tendered his friendship, and was proud to show us bits of his country.
None of this would have happened, though, if I’d been passing from one bus stop to the next.
And we didn’t shave. Lucky for me, I arrived in El Porvenir, Honduras, just in time to spread my wings of brotherhood with No Shave November. No Shave November, or Movember, started as a way to raise money and bring awareness to a variety of men’s health issues. Over time, it morphed into something cool to do, a way to pass time as winter dawns and an excuse—as if you’d need one—to throw a party once the skin above everyone’s lip has filled in. Besides, there’s never a reason to let your facial hair run wild just for fun. You should always have someone by your side for that adventure.
Spending an entire month gearing up for the Mustachio Bashio is just as nerdy as it sounds, bearing in mind the two byproducts of sporting whiskers: One, you don’t have to buy razors or blades. And two, you’re going to save money on condoms, because if you have a mustache, you can go ahead and forget about talking to women for a while. Male birth control. These are the two understood consequences of growing a mustache, and you take them with something of a resigned grin—much like the first time your parents forced you to go to camp for the week, because, well, after it’s over with, you realize you had a great time canoeing in lakes and playing dodge ball, and you didn’t feel the least remorse for the week missed playing video games as you thought you would. All things have opportunity costs, even mustaches.
So there I was at our house, meters from the sands of the beach. A sofa and two loveseats polka-dotted a big living room that blended into the kitchen. Five or six chairs huddled around a dining room table, and on the far wall, a TV sat enthroned by stacks of books on either side. I sported a ten-day-old spotty goatee. The sound of crashing waves flowed through the screened-in porch and into the living room, where the lot of us volunteers had assembled. John told a quick story, and everybody laughed. Chris added a quip; more laughter.
I sprawled out on the sofa, intoxicating myself for courage. Watching Ivana from across the room, I plotted my first move. I always plot. And I have no moves. All the volunteers enjoyed a little preparty as the night kicked off, nursing beer bottles and frolicking about the beach house, one of three gathering spots in our little town and definitely the most popular. Ivana flashed glances at me from her perch on one of the loveseats. I couldn’t read these glances. She was glancing at everyone: men and women, tall and short, full beards and peppered cheeks.
She moved to the kitchen to wash the dishes we’d accumulated over the past two days. Still lounging, I watched her from behind. I already knew of her flowing blonde hair and spectacular brown eyes and slight, graceful physique. But as I sat there watching her, she kept smiling this wide smile, this seemingly exaggerated smile as she spoke with the other volunteers. Her hands sunk deep in sudsy water; she nodded and laughed and shook her head in agreement. She said, “You’re kidding! I’ve been there, too! I loved it!” Then, “Oh, wow. And he lives in Iowa? I definitely want to see pictures later.”
What’s my play here, I thought. Do I go with the Israel-Palestine conflict on the Gaza Strip or stick with something safer like pop culture?
“Dishes,” I said aloud.
I grabbed Chris’s and my dishes and made my move.
“Here’s another couple of plates,” I offered gallantly, as if to say that I had collected those dishes all by my very self. None of these were her dishes. This wasn’t even her house. She lived down the street, where she had her own dishes. Why was she doing our dishes?
“Oh, thank you,” she said with her Eastern European cheer.
I leaned against the counter. “I could help, if you’d like.”
“No, that’s okay. You don’t look like you would be very good at doing dishes,” she said with a laugh. “But I’d love if you would stay and talk to me.”
I didn’t understand. This had to be flirting, surely, but I’d never been great at picking up on flirting. “Or, y’ know,” I replied, “I could dry. THE DISHES. AFTER YOU WASH THEM.” I often underestimated her level of English as I came to know her—she spoke eight languages of various proficiency, and with volunteers in our group from all over the world, I didn’t know which language had Ivana’s attention at any given moment. So I would do what we all do when a foreigner doesn’t understand what we’re saying: we slow down and yell at them. “I SAID I CAN DRY THE DISHES AFTER YOU WASH THEM,” I repeated.
“But we don’t need to dry them,” she noted, motioning with her left hand. “I just set them in this bin to dry.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was saying. You hand them to me, and I can set them in the bin.” Really, I just wanted to whisk Ivana out to the beach to hold her hand in mine, and I was struggling not to blurt out anything random like “cuddle” or “pretty eyes” or “God, I-vana lie on the couch and embrace you in my arms until morning.”
So we washed dishes together. She scrubbed them with a ragged cloth and then rinsed them before handing them over. I proceeded to awkwardly move them six inches to the right, setting them in the rack she could have easily reached. We made small talk—mostly about dishes—and I wished I had one ounce of skill with women.
She said that this was the start of her second month in Honduras, and her plan was to do a full five months of volunteering with children before heading home to Slovakia. “I graduated from college in June,” she added. “I’ve been saving my money for a long time to take this trip to Central America.”
We also took a minute to compare El Porvenir, a small town of seven thousand people and only six or seven two-story houses, with the towns where we came from. El P. is mostly run-down and lacking resources, upshots of an eon of poverty. Houses are concrete shacks—three bedrooms for the narcos and the town’s aristocracy, two for those with good jobs, one for the fieldworkers. Grass grows sporadically, but there’s always a cow dawdling nearby to devour it. The streets are dusty or simply made of dirt. Skirting horse muck becomes a mere formality after being in town for two days. A forty-minute bus ride to La Ceiba is required if you’re in search of shopping centers, but El P. has corner pulperías selling produce, sauces, spices, tampons, beer, toothpaste, toilet paper, cigarettes, Snickers, diapers, and hair gel. Cars and trucks occasionally drift by in puffs of choking engine exhaust, but it’s mostly by foot or bike that people travel in town. Walking about, I often passed a goat ranging on the road or a horse tied to a tree, both claiming living space among four or five chickens per house. Pigs wallowed in backyards, their angry squeals drifting down the street and into town. The people of El Porvenir don’t tell stories about what life was like growing up on a farm; their world is a farm.
The focus of the town, the center plaza is, of course, the soccer field. Everybody gathers around the soccer field at night to watch the year-round recreational games and to drink a couple of Salvavidas and generally just be tranquil and jolly. That’s where you bump into your neighbor; or your aunt; or most certainly, your buddies whom you haven’t seen since yesterday.
In the States, there isn’t a single place in town where everybody congregates. Which is good and bad, I suppose. I dig the intimate vibe of El Porvenir, but at the same time, with one central social hub, personal business rides the gossip train from one edge of town to the other in just a matter of minutes, and there is little real privacy.
Over the first week of being in El P., my thoughts on living there evolved two times:
Holy shit, I said from the onset. I could never live like this. This is crazy! Cows trampling down the road? Seriously?
Then, I made peace with the cows, and the town started to grow on me. I mean it’s not so bad. Very peaceful. Simple. Borders the sea. I could live like this. Yeah, I could definitely live like this.
Then hot, sticky nights ticked by, and I rationalized, Okay, I could live like this. I mean, it is possible. But who would want to live like this when I’ve got alternatives? I’m telling you, Ma, I could live like this, but after a couple of months here, I’ll take back my air-conditioning and energy-efficient washing machines.
I figured that the only nuisance, really, were the stray dogs, but I tolerated them as the idols I perceived them to be. Besides, I’d already reasoned that in my next life I was coming back as one of them anyway. Everywhere, these stray dogs, and no manner of policing them. They trotted down the dusty street and in and out of strangers’ backyards, overlong nails clicking against the wooden and concrete porches. They just existed in their own little aloof world, alongside but segregated from the people of El Porvenir. And that world, for them, was idyllic.
Hm. What do I feel like doing right now? a stray dog in Honduras—Victor we’ll call him—asks himself. Hm. I’m just not sure. Oh, I know! I’m hungry! I think I’ll eat something. So Victor scavenges for something to eat. No problem. (Many stray dogs are emaciated and skeletal, no doubt, but then some plump dog steals down the street with a chicken in his mouth. I would be that dog.) Victor then wanders around aimlessly for ten minutes. Hm. Now, what do I want to do? Let me think. Let me think. I know! I’d like to go to the bathroom. So Victor takes a crap, wherever he happens to be at the moment. This is his world, and his world is a bathroom, too. All right, feeling good. Feeling good. Again he circles the village aimlessly for ten minutes but grows restless. Gosh, now what is there to do? he asks himself. Oh, I know! I think I’d like to make some love. Yeah, that’s it. Make some love, doggy-style. He looks around. But to whom shall I make love? He peers down the street. Well, lookie there! It’s his girlfriend, Katrina! Victor approaches her. She bats her eyes. She’s been waiting for him, knows what’s coming next. Doesn’t matter who’s watching. They’re stray dogs in Honduras; they can do whatever they please, wherever they please. Victor and his girlfriend get it on for ten minutes. Now what? he asks himself rhetorically, for he already knows the answer. Why it’s nap time, of course! And darn it if I’m not going to make my bed over here under the shade of this tree, because this town is my town, and in my town, I get to eat, shit, sleep, and fornicate on my own terms.
Now that is the life. Sure, my life span as a dog is going to be eighteen months or so before I’m stoned to death by the owner of that chicken in my mouth, but that’s going to be a glorious eighteen months. And besides, after my dog life, I’ll come back as a ninja anyway, and then I’m looking at a lifespan of at least three hundred years.
Placing plates and forks into the bin, I stammered through all of my thoughts on stray dogs with Ivana. She simulated interest, looking as if she was wondering why, if karma was real, my bumbling presence served as the reward for her voluntarily washing someone else’s dishes.
But the night was young, as they say. The preparty wrapped up, cabs arrived, and we headed to the club. I don’t love spending time on a crowded dance floor, but I played along. I bought four drinks and set them in front of myself, Anna, John, and Danny. I acted the part of Tom Sawyer playing with the other kids across the yard in an effort to get Becky Thatcher’s attention. Showing off, I call it. This was my move. Don’t buy Ivana a drink; let her buy her own drink. That’ll win her heart. Go get ’em, champ.
I stepped outside to the patio to hang with Chris and John, who also didn’t like the idea of dancing without women. Let the girls dance in their little Girl Circles. Ivana came around, and we started chatting again. My second chance. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it wasn’t a complete fail, because the next moment found me on the dance floor with her. This was a sure enough female repellent, but if she was going to eventually find out that I dance as if a swarm of mosquitoes is attacking my lower back, then we might as well get it out from the kickoff.
We danced. I managed to step out of my self-consciousness enough to enjoy the way she moved—graceful swaying and spinning to spicy tunes pumped out by two tiny speakers by the bar. She gave me two songs and then pulled me out into the chilly rain to talk. She said she liked the rain. The water pouring from a leaden sky plastered my yellow shirt against my body and had the same effect on her blouse. My skin tingled. I could see fifteen feet ahead, but not twenty. Lights shone faintly in the distance, probably a lamp in someone’s bedroom.
We were alone. Ivana’s sunny blonde hair darkened and clumped, strands clinging to her face and neck. She wore no makeup; there was no mascara trail running down her cheeks. I was cold and wet and shivering, a pathetic little puppy. But she was smiling as she leaned against the railing, and there was nowhere in the world I wanted to be more at that moment than right there in the eye of the storm chatting with quite literally the most beautiful girl I have ever seen in person. It was euphoric, that moment.
Part of me thought: Kiss her! Do it! Now! This is your shot! Seize the motherfucking day, baby!
And the other part of me thought: Seriously, dude. Look at you. You are bloody mad if you think she’s going to kiss you back.
And then the first part of me thought of the second part: You’re an ass.
I glanced at my watch. Eighteen minutes we had been out there in the rain. Eighteen minutes. This had to be a test of some sort, a standoff to see whether I would duck back inside first. We spoke of the world, of places traveled and destinations desired. The rain let up, and we headed back in for more dancing, a good sign that she wasn’t irritated by my stiff movements.
I had another drink as the two o’clock hour approached. Six of us caught two cabs home. Anna sat behind the driver, Ivana in the middle, and I settled in on the right. I pulled out my camera and curled my left arm around Ivana’s neck. I held the camera out in front of us, kissed her on the cheek, and snapped a photo. Another of my moves. Screw it. What is she going to do? Tell John and Chris what a creep I am? Let’s go ahead and get it all out there.
She smiled. I grinned. We asked the cab to stop at a street vendor for baleadas—folded tortillas stuffed with beef, beans, eggs, and cheese—and I bought one for everyone. Big spender. Slightly intoxicated and heavily enamored, I would have emptied my pockets at Ivana’s request. Lord knows I’d emptied them for less appealing gambles.
We were back at her house by 2:30, but she’d forgotten her key so we couldn’t get in. We talked outside, sitting on the padded porch swing, while we waited for someone to return. At 3:30, everyone else came home, and we all spilled inside. The spot I’d staked on the couch was immediately revoked. I wasn’t going to walk home that late in Honduras, so I’d planned to sleep on the couch, but Carly, little Carly from Canada who shared a room with Ivana, was having none of that. She’d had at least a quarter of her body weight in rum and Cokes—light on the Coke—and she was adamant, with a dose of militancy, about crashing on the couch so she could watch a movie as she fell asleep.
Delighted at the opportunity to move closer to Ivana, I collapsed on Carly’s bed, five feet away from Ivana’s bed. I’d been assertive but not aggressive that night, and I never got the kiss. I would have traded twenty kisses with twenty pretty girls for one kiss with Ivana that night. She was funny and peppy and unassuming and compassionate. She did our dishes, a house full of dishes that weren’t even hers. But the kiss never happened, and I drifted off, defeated but buoyant, just before five in the morning.
At 5:30, Ivana woke me up. “Adam!” she whispered urgently. “Adam!”
I cracked my eyes open and groaned. Blinking my vision clear, I propped myself up on one elbow. Ivana was clearly flustered, worried about something. She said there was a guy outside her window and she edged out of her blankets and closer to me. I sat up. Rubbed the grit from my eyes. My foggy, sleep-deprived mind figured this must be a ruse, Ivana making her move on me, clever girl. But I was wrong, and her wide eyes and pale face showed that she actually did think there was a guy outside of her window. I uttered one word: “okay.” I let out a single, sardonic laugh. I mean, there was a dude outside her window. Okay. But she was serious and clearly shaken. I said nothing more. From there, we simply dissected the expressions on each other’s mugs. She seemed to be thinking, What can you do about it? My exact thoughts were: Are you kidding me! I already bought baleadas! And now this man out there? What . . .uh . . . what do you want me to do about this exactly, babe? You want me to go out there? Like, outside? And talk to this man? Really? I already bought baleadas! Sensing—from just my sarcastically raised brow—my utter lack of masculinity, she nodded and remarked, “I think I’d better go get John.”
I’ll pause here, as you have to understand one thing before you judge me. The violence in Honduras is bad. Really bad. Honduras consistently ranks in the top three in the world for murders per capita. As I sat up in Carly’s bed, all tangled in pink sheets, I couldn’t help but recall that Honduras was—and had been for a while—the reigning champion of murders in the world, in fact, with the United Nations reporting more annual murders per hundred thousand (eighty-six) in Honduras than any other country on the globe.
Eighty-six out of one hundred thousand. Not far from one in a thousand. That’s a staggering number. Consider that the odds of playing in the NBA are about one out of seventy thousand. If, for my ninth birthday party, I asked for a basketball and declared, “I’m going to play in the NBA, daddy, just like Michael Jordan!” he would have said, “Go for it, son. Work real hard in the gym, eat your green beans, be nice to your mother, and you can do it.” But the reality is that I had a much (much!) better chance of taking a bullet to the chest when I visited Honduras as a twenty-nine-year-old. Pops should have bought me a set of body armor for my birthday.
And the region where I lived was as dangerous as anywhere in the country. Five of the fifty-eight nights I stayed in El Porvenir, I heard gunshots cracking through the night. The restaurant two-and-a-half blocks from our house, Juaquin’s, was robbed one Thursday at noon—at noon—and the owner’s son drew his own gun and fired down the street as the robber skedaddled. (Coincidentally, a woman named Maura currently owned the restaurant, as Juaquin had been murdered two years prior. She couldn’t find it in her heart to change the name.)
We had been warned not to walk around after dark. Charlie, one of Honduras Child Alliance’s directors had warned us not to check our e-mail at the El Porvenir Inn—the only hotel in town and one of two places to use the Internet—because he’d heard that one of Honduras’s biggest drug dealers was staying there. “Yeah, okay, sounds good, Charlie,” I remarked with rolling eyes, but four days later, that drug dealer was gunned down along with his three cronies in the middle of a party.
Two days before I arrived in El Porvenir, they found a body diced into pieces in the pineapple fields and could only identify it by the clothes that the guy was wearing the day he disappeared.
On December 15 at ten o’clock in the morning, the lot of us volunteers and children alike cowered together behind a barricade in the church after hearing two rapid-fire gunshots that couldn’t have been ninety yards away. My heart pounded as I spread my arms around a few of the kids, keeping them low and trying to reassure them. They just blinked back at me, sadly rather used to this sort of event. Moments later, we watched a truck full of police officers whiz by.
Four days after that, right before Christmas recess, the brother of one of our kids was murdered. The killers sent one of his eyeballs to his family.
And on and on, to say nothing of the armed robberies and sexual assaults that are the backwash of a poverty-stricken country with an anemic educational system. In Raleigh, North Carolina, if there’s a killing, you can bet on comprehensive local coverage of the investigation, the trial, and the aftermath. In Honduras, the newspapers couldn’t keep up with it all, so they quit trying. Even if nearly all of this bloodshed is related to gangs or narcotics, El Porvenir is a town of just seven thousand people, too few for so much violence, and no one is safe from the crossfire.
So, there I was, having heard and lived through so many of these stories already, when Ivana woke me with this business about a guy outside her window. “Okay” seemed a fair response. Barbed wire laced the top of the concrete walls barricading the house. Besides, even if this shadow man had worked his way through that obstruction, sturdy, steel bars were bolted over every door and window, completely securing the house against intruders. This man was not getting in.
Ivana had nevertheless diagnosed my expression and made her decision. “I think I’d better go get John,” she said, averting her gaze. I think I’d better go get a man.
She crept out of the room and down the hallway to knock on John’s door. John emerged a moment later in his drawers, alert because he’d been watching a movie with Jennifer. He paused to put on his chain mail and to grab his lance. Here I was trying to slyly put the moves on Ivana when John came prancing out atop his white stallion. What a jerk! He popped the door open to go outside, I mean without any hesitation. And he was tender, as well: he was gently trying to explain to Ivana about the monsters under her bed and the bogeyman, while also getting in the right mindset to take care of the man, that phantom man, on the other side of Ivana’s window. “It’s okay, Ivana,” he murmured, understanding and sympathy in his tone. He laid one gentle hand on her shoulder. “I have nightmares, too, from time to time. I’ll go have a look, and we’ll get this resolved. It’s going to be all right.” This motherfucker. Eight or nine hours I put in trying to woo Ivana, and in ninety seconds this worm had slithered in to show her what I was lacking.
He flipped on the exterior lights and stepped into the open. I knelt in the doorway, taking as long as I could to tie my shoes. I was probably twenty steps or so behind him as he turned the corner. A fraction of a second later, he started screaming at a dude, who was, in fact, right outside of Ivana’s bedroom window. There was actually a dude. Interesting. I froze, and my sphincter muscle tightened while John strong-armed this guy. John confessed to us later that he’d thought Ivana was crying wolf, again, yet there he was—this man, this drunk swaying man—right outside our window, having worked his way through quite a challenging barricade. It was very bizarre.
So John, our gallant hero, sprang from around the corner, pushing and screaming at this dude. And dig this: all of a sudden, his Spanish was fluent. He knew exactly what to say to this guy—his sentence structure, his conjugation, everything was flawless. He formed all twenty-two words of his vocabulary into completely coherent sentences and let this fellow know he had best not come back ’round these parts ever again. Jennifer stood in the front doorway, gripping a knife from the kitchen—this blade must have been at least nine inches, a minimachete—and she screamed: “You don’t want me to come out there!” John pushed the guy out. One hundred percent valor.
Moving forward from that cowardly night, my reputation slowly continued to slump with the fellas. Sunday afternoon, we went into La Ceiba—Chris, John, and I—to watch football, but I couldn’t understand all the football jargon. I just sat there and repeated what everyone said. Chris would say something about the Packers’ secondary tackling the other football men, and I would just say, “Yeah, yeah, that crazy secondary with their crazy tackles. Peyton Manning, making passes. And running the ball. Passes. And y’know, the touchdowns, of course. Ha, the secondary. Budweiser. Craziness.”
The workouts and dinners lasted the duration of my stay in Honduras, but as much as I learned from Danny and John and Chris, and as much fun as we had, I couldn’t be taken seriously by these guys. Or Ivana.
I had truly lived up to my new name: Adam Without Eve.
But I persisted...