By Ben Anson
HAVANA TIMES – One minute I was holding the door open for her, receiving a lovely smile and cheery “muchas gracias joven” (thank you very much young man) and the next, I sat gazing in sheer disbelief at one’s Whatsapp messages, as my colleague Eduard, informed me: “Pamela died in a car crash at sunrise…”
“No… no fucking way…” I responded.
“Yes. Drink-driving my friend, we saw the bottles”.
Three bottles of Whiskey lined up together in the boot of her very high-end, ostentatious, white Prado, as Eduard and I exited the God-awful, prison-like factory where Pamela and thousands of over shamelessly-exploited yet decent, down-to-earth, noble Hondurans work like punished slaves from as early as 6 a.m. to midnight (if the company says so).
Pamela was the human resources manager. She had one of the more comfortable roles. A big, air-conditioned office, with the giant Prado parked just out front.
The ‘common’ factory workers who make the cheap-looking sports clothes sent to the US live what I can only class as a torturous experience day in day out.
Make no mistake dear reader, these are nasty, nasty places where entirely unscrupulous, scumbag foreign businessmen take advantage of the decidedly lower costs of mounting and operating their factories in nations like Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala – before paying the swarms of workers – a vile pittance for slave labor.
Teaching English to a team of individuals in managerial positions from Monday to Friday has been a terribly eye-opening experience for me. What an educational gaze into the tragic reality for Latin Americans being worked to the bone for three or four hundred dollars a month in a city where rent-alone can cost that much.
These swarms of common factory workers, on account of not being very educated (their fault, it is not), tend to form the ranks of those hundreds who risk life and limb in their illegal treks and crossings into the USA.
As I walk the aisles which run between a monstrosity of noisy, steaming, and indeed frightening-looking machinery, operated by deprived individuals (deprived of sleep, decent wages and happiness I should think), I say to my colleague Eduard – who actually worked there beforehand – “fuck me, the heat here is mad, don’t they use fans at least?”
He smirks and replies, “this is a factory in Honduras bro, they don’t even say good morning to these people”.
The English language academy sent us here, for it struck up a contract with the factory; the latter having solicited the services of bilingual teachers who’d assist their team of managers.
The managers, such as the dear, late Pamela, make a more attractive salary. Yet in exchange for their souls. These people, who somehow, are always smiles and banter, despite the awful dark rings around their eyes and greying hairs, quite simply live in this factory.
I think that they have all forgotten what ‘free time’ and a ‘social life’ are… To discuss ‘work/life balance’ with them would be something of a tremendously theoretical and philosophical conversation at this point.
Yet there she appeared. Every time I went.
Elegance in the form of a woman. Tall, impeccably well-dressed and sweet-smelling. Style appeared second-nature to the gorgeous, young Pamela, who may have been thirty or so yet looked as if she’d just stepped out of high school. The wonderful outfits she’d throw upon herself on a daily basis.
Pamela’s presence shrieked prosperity and confidence every single time that the dazzling, splendiferous figure of Pamela floated by. She was one of those rare females who could silence the tongues of men with a simple greeting of “buenas tardes” or “hola muchachos”. Not a single crude or roguish remark was made by any male student of mine whenever she entered or left our classroom. Not once. And how terribly uncommon, this is.
She was so delightful that not a single man would dare or even dream of making lurid comments or gestures, all one could think to say was a genuine statement of “wow, isn’t she beautiful?”
Even the rough fellas from rural regions such as Olancho and Copan, students of mine, would concur with a “yes, she’s a real doll” or “what elegance…”
If Pamela told the men of that factory to jump, they’d do so immediately and plead with her to know: “how high?”
Eduard and I left that factory one Thursday afternoon to encounter Pamela’s Prado with its boot open and three bottles of expensive looking whiskey laid out together.
“She’s having a party tonight”.
“Yeah bro, some party eh!”
There was nothing left of that fucking Prado a few hours later.
One minute you’re around and then you’re not. Her sudden, violent end shocked us all here in the heated city of San Pedro Sula.
Almost nobody turned up to our last class, for they simply haven’t the interest in discussing ‘comparatives’ after such tragic events and blame them, I do not. All I could say to an upset female student of mine, who worked closely with Pamela was “la dura verdad, es de que la vida continua…”
“The hard truth is, life goes on”…
“Y qué vida, es…” she said.
“And what a life, it is…”
She leaves a young daughter behind.