By Ben Anson
HAVANA TIMES – It had been an invitation that one had been ‘putting off’.
The problem with putting something off, is that sooner or later one is forced to surrender and go forth with whatever it may be, or just decide to be perfectly blunt and announce that there is no interest and thus state that one shall not take part in the venture.
Being British, I suffer from our peculiar, innate fear of offending.
As a result, I felt obliged to take up an acquaintance’s offer of visiting his house after weeks of inventing all manner of excuses; a house which lies in the furthermost and roughest outskirts of El Progreso city, Honduras.
It turned out to be a day spent in the ‘hood’. En la ghetto – as the youth here say.
A place with more stray dogs, wandering drunks intoxicated beyond their senses, and crack houses that you could shake a stick at.
I met the character in an English language academy. Months ago. He appeared well dressed, shirt and tie – attending a job interview. As we got to talking, he asked a bit about me and how my teaching was going at the said academy – etc… He mentioned that he was a recent arrival from the US, which I immediately (after having experienced Honduras to the fullest) understood to mean that he was a deportee.
We all make mistakes. The Lord knows I certainly have.
One does not judge, so I allowed his chit chat and we got friendly.
A few days later and I found out that the smartly-dressed, stocky fellow with the nervous speech and polite manner was an ex-member of the Latin Kings street gang – no less… Such a membership got him deported, needless to say. I became aware of his past ills as we drank some beers one evening and he opened up. I then got to see the tattoos. A king and a queen on each breast, amongst other gang-related marks. Crowns on the shoulders for instance.
Despite being a deported Latin King, he struck me as something of a simple tough guy; the way in which he would talk about his favourite fast foods, the birds he used to see in Texas and most amusingly – his love for romantic Mexican music. The fellow likes a novela too…
Being new to Honduras (he spent almost his whole life in the US), he has found it hard to assimilate and make friends, so I took up his offer of going to spend some time with him and his family over at his house – after constant excuses. Perhaps I felt a little bad for the character, I could tell that he was rather lonely in his Whatsapp messages.
We walked a good few kilometers from the city center to his neighborhood last Sunday morning, passing football pitches, fields, bridges, police checkpoints and oncoming trucks. The searing heat was upon us, forcing constant curse words as we wiped sweat from brows at regular intervals.
He had come to escort me, and in doing so, had brought along a portable bluetooth speaker. We entered his extensive neighborhood, which is divided into thirteen parts – blasting furious rap from the speaker. He held the device in his hand, not at all concerned by the drawing of attention this produced. A short, stocky Honduran fellow, his head shaven, baggy, street clothes upon him accompanied by a tall, wild-haired and bearded white man, dressed in a white polo shirt, dark shades, jeans and sneakers.
“Maybe if they tried to understand me; what should I do?
I had to feed my fuckin’ family; what else could I do
But be a thug? Out slangin’ with the homies
Fuck hangin’ with them phonies in the club!”
Tupac’s explicit lyrics blasted as scores of wide eyed faces stared us down from behind shutters and car windows. Those standing on the street moved themselves well out of the way. I’ve never been looked at like I was during that long, awkward walk through the thirteen blocks of Palmero community.
Motley colored houses, some of adobe, others of wooden planks and cement and all those in between – align the streets. These communities are vast expanses whose general rule is the more off the beaten track you go, the more hairy they become. Lawless frankly. There may be a wealth of bars, alcohol selling corner shops and cantinas with anything from illegal cigarettes to Panamanian rum, yet there is not a police officer in sight.
Endless dirt tracks seem to lead to the center of the earth. Shacks are plotted here and there. Naked toddlers run about. They chase the chickens. A waft of rice and beans encounters one’s nostrils at random points. Latin trap booms from speakers; despite not owning beds, a gigantic speaker will be found in each and every house within such communities.
“El tiempo no da pa’ tras,
Pa’ chingar tu no me tiene’ que amar!”
Sugar cane fields surround Palermo. They stretch right over to the far mountains in the distance.
On passing by some fields, my companion spoke.
“Dat’s where the local G’s leave bodies homeboy”.
The cane fields are indeed where bodies, male and female – turn up every now and again.
I may have enjoyed a nice home cooked lunch with the Latin King’s family, kind, humble people who offered everything from good conversation to extra tortillas, yet the visiting of his local crack dens and the characters who appeared in them – were a little too much.
My companion took me all around, for he wanted me to see where “he hung at”.
There are better spots to “hang at” – dear readers.
From the empty, derelict, completely dilapidated houses with dead birds in corners and cigarette buts all over the floors to the skinny, malnourished and utterly delirious, ranting and raving lunatics barely dressed, I have never felt so out of place in a long time. I’ve seen all sorts of settings too.
The sad part was how they tried to show off to me on account of being foreign, in their heads I guess they thought I’d find their weed-smoking and binge drinking ‘cool’. I met far too many lost souls from the two pistol-wearing local dealers who stated an interest in going to watch Real Madrid play in Spain someday, to ‘Rey’ – a barely coherent coke head who just giggled and said “yeah bro” again and again.
At one point, around midday, I relaxed for a good while, whilst conversing with an old timer, in English, sat outside a fast food stand. We spoke about many things; he told me of his experiences when he travelled the world working on cruise ships. I engaged in some cold beers with the man. He struck me as a nice, old gentleman. That was of course, as good as it got.
My conclusion: the hood is not a place to find oneself in, by any means. It felt like entering a whole new dimension. I can’t imagine what people have to do to get out of it…