Thursday, October 13, 2011

In which my glasses are stolen in Honduras

I think I have told you guys I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Chile and that when I completed my two year stint (it's two years, people, TWO years - you authors whose characters join the Peace Corps and come home again after a year or decide month by month whether to stay longer - you have it all wrong. Please. A tiny little bit of research - - will give you the basics), I came back to the US over land.

One hundred forty nine hours on buses, trains and a few planes, including the 22-hour ride from Salta to Formosa (Argentina) - the ride with the guy who threw up and no air conditioning.

This was also the ride where the little kid in the seat in front of me had one of those noisy toy guns. It made a squealing, whirring sound every time the kid pulled the trigger, which was about every four seconds. At the beginning of this ride, before I realized that the ticket seller had lied to me and it was a 22-hour trip and not an 11-hour one, I thought 11 hours of a kid making that kind of noise was not a good prospect.

I looked around at the other passengers. Nobody else seemed to be bothered. This does seem to be a Latin American trait - they are pretty easygoing when it comes to kids.

Even though I had already lived in Latin America for two years and had become far less Type A than I used to be, I had not adopted that "que sera que sera" attitude when it came to children. As in, I did not think it was fine for the person next to me on the bus to have a seven year old in her lap when that meant that said child was pushing into my space. I didn't think it was OK for kids to run up and down the aisle of the bus, screaming.

But I was the stranger. It wasn't my country. I had to suck it up. When in Rome, etc, etc.

But 11 hours? With that noise?


I stood, leaned over the seat, got the kid's attention, and asked him to hand me the toy.

He did.


I sat down and opened my book.

The kid watched me, stunned. Then his mother finally turned around, distracted, no doubt, by the peace and quiet that had descended upon us.

I handed the toy back to her and said sweetly, "Please don't let him play with this on the bus. The noise is very disturbing to the other passengers."

The mom was so shocked - perhaps that anyone would be bothered by her kid and yes I know parents, of necessity, become deaf to the constant racket that seems to accompany children - that she did as I asked.

Wait. That's not the main story. The story I want to tell is about when someone stole my glasses out of my backpack while I was wearing my backpack.

I had taken the bus to San Pedro Sula, which is a pit in the middle of Honduras. How can a country that has the lovely city of Tegucigalpa also have La Ceiba (pit) and San Pedro Sula?

The buses in Latin America vary from the very nice ejecutivo buses in Chile, Argentina and Mexico, with comfortable cushioned and reclining seats, a toilet, a TV and bingo. Blackout bingo. Not five in a line bingo. You don't want to shout "Bingo!" when you have only five. We played bingo on the plane in Peru. Don't have a movie? Or don't have time for a movie? There's always bingo.

Vary from nice buses to the old Duchess County ISD school buses that are no longer suitable for transporting American schoolchildren but are now perfect for Latin American adults, their children, their chickens, and their pirated cassette tapes. Three to a seat on the school buses. People and chickens in the aisles.

The bus to San Pedro Sula was probably one of the old school buses. Very crowded. As I got off the bus, my big backpack on my back and my small daypack clutched in front of me, I heard someone whisper, "They're robbing you."

To which I paid no attention because I was trying, in the crush, to get out of the bus.

It wasn't until I opened the pocket on my backpack that I discovered my glasses were missing.

My glasses! Who would steal glasses?!

I whirled around, looking for someone wearing my glasses. Only, because I didn't have my glasses on, I couldn't see very well. I began to cry tears of rage. I was DONE with Honduras. I had already been robbed in Tegucigalpa and then been cheated by a cabbie in La Ceiba.

My hat had been stolen from my head in Tegucigalpa. I was standing on a street corner, minding my own business, when I felt a "whoosh" on top of my head. I put my hand up to check and discovered that the hideous $2 baseball cap I had bought in Paraguay was gone.

If you're going to steal, at least steal something nice.

I ran in the direction I thought the thief had gone, trying to remember the Spanish word for "thief." "Ladron, ladron!" I shouted.

The crowd parted way.

I couldn't run well because 1. I can never run fast or well because I am a lazy, slow person and 2. I had my big backpack on my back.

I demanded of an onlooker: "Did you see who stole my hat?"

Yes, he told me, but he didn't stop the thief because what if he'd had a gun?

Oh for pity's sake.

In La Ceiba, the cabbie I asked told me that the only ferry out to the Bay Islands was in 20 minutes so yes, I had to go with him. He careened over the dirt road to the port, took my money, and left me at the isolated terminal, "terminal" meaning "a bench on the beach with no place to buy anything to eat or drink and no place to pee."

It took me half an hour to realize that no, the ferry was not leaving in 20 minutes and it took me another four hours to realize that the ferry was leaving in five hours.

My Honduras experiences had not been so good.

When I discovered I had been robbed again, just a few days later, but this time of something far more difficult and expensive to replace, I reached my limit. I started to cry. I flagged down a cab and gave him the address of my hotel.

(I use the word "hotel" loosely. I was staying at the South and Central America Handbook's "F" and "G" lodgings, which was the class of room with a shared bathroom and maybe windows. Maybe not. I paid between $4 and $10 a night. The $10 places weren't necessarily fancy - they were just in Argentina and Costa Rica, which are expensive compared to the rest of Latin America.)

I told the cabbie what had happened.

"Well, it is getting close to Christmas, you know," he told me.

So the thieves were getting their shopping done early by stealing my glasses?

He continued, "Don't worry! I know all the thieves around here! I know where they will take your glasses to sell. We can get them back."

I guess there is a big market for used prescription glasses in Honduras.

Then he drove ten blocks to get to my hotel, which was actually two blocks from the bus station.

Thief, meet thief.

He did, however, say that he would bring my glasses back to me and leave them with the clerk.


I checked into my "G" lodgings, dragged my backpack up to the cinderblock room with one tiny window up in the corner, a single bed with what I hoped was clean sheets - sometimes it is better not have one's glasses - and a cement floor that also did not bear too close a look, dropped my things, and returned to the desk to talk to the clerk about my glasses. He did not offer much hope, but I kept thinking, "Who would want my glasses? They won't do anyone else any good!"

I left the hotel in search of food. I couldn't find a cab that wasn't going to charge me the Gringo Tax. Frustrated, I started to walk. Then I heard a kid say something in English. His parents were naturalized US citizens from Honduras and he had been born in New Orleans, where they now lived. They were in town visiting family. The mom asked if they could give me a ride.

Thrilled to find someone who was actually being nice to me, I accepted.

If this were a different kind of blog, this would be where I told you that they kidnapped me and tortured me and I barely escaped with my life, but this is a rainbows and butterflies blog, where everyone lives happily ever after (mostly), so guess what? They took me to Wendy's and bought my supper and were appalled that my glasses had been stolen. Then they took me back to the hotel. Where the clerk looked at me as if I was crazy when I asked if the cabbie had brought back my glasses.

I spent the rest of the trip either squinting when I was inside or trying to see through the dark lenses of my prescription sunglasses. I can tell you that the experience of watching the movie "Clueless" in a Mexico City cinema is not enhanced by watching it with sunglasses.