We almost didn’t make it. Last night thunder rocked Cayman and the camera flashes of lightning took in the whole island like a trembling and emaciated model. Children climbed into their parents’ beds and dogs howled at the intrusion. But still I rose early, packed with faith and dressed as well as I could expect to before facing such a great unknown.
Monkey was a joy. She wasn’t quite awake yet as we made it to the airport and searched out a gift for her “Nena”. She cried when her Daddy said goodbye and called for him well into our flight, but soon she was deep in the adventure.
There are things we take for granted as adults that came to mind on this flight. The knowledge that when you swallow your ears will pop as altitude changes is one thing. The faith in the protection of the structure of the airplane from the fall to your death in sudden splattered contact with the ocean or the ground below is another. Ply as we might at Monkey with the bottle, and then with water, and then with gummy treats, she simply refused and continued to fuss with her ears. In the end it was Myce’s soda – a forbidden adult drink – that brought her some relief. You could see her surprise burst into a big shining smile that slanted her eyes shut and sent her cheeks rosy as one ear popped into adjustment. She took another swallow and waited and the next ear popped another smile out on to her face. And then it was “Where is Daddy? Daddy gone?” again.
But then her mummy, Myce, held her near the window and showed her the ground disappearing below. She screamed with sudden terror and fought and clawed back away from the window seat for fear of falling. She was strapped in, attached to Myce’s belt, but she twisted her way to a seat next to her. I didn’t expect that reaction at all! But of course it makes sense! How on earth could a child as smart as she expect that little flimsy glass to stay secure and keep her from falling? What would she know of the physics that has gone into its design and the FAA and international standards? Her fear was absolutely reasonable. And soon it calmed.
The iPhone and Angry Birds held her attention for a few minutes and then it was Peter, James and John in the sailboat out on the rolling sea complete with actions. She must have felt us leave Cayman airspace because talk of Daddy switched completely to talk of Nena as if they had made a midair handover. “Nena cahming, Nena cahming” was chanted for all of the half-full plane to hear.
All of a sudden the clouds broke. “Nena cahming! Nena cahming!” The child would chant with a clear understanding. She hadn’t seen her Nena in months. More soda and protest and descent and out the window the proud coast stretched out of sight in both directions. Waves like a white collar around a proud neck rolled in homage to an immovable shore. A strong unrelenting line of coast standing guard for the land that promised to be lush and full of adventure struck me like the beating of a drum. I have flown to many a coast but never seen one so imposing and powerful as this coast of Honduras.
Trees taller than my island has ever known flanked the edges of pineapple fields. Dole has been here for some time and the United Fruit Company has played a major part in the shaping of this land’s modern history. From the air the order of field and crop gave way to wild and lush jungle. Pico Bonito disappeared wide into the clouds, dark and brooding like a mother-in-law that refuses to be pleased, conceited and in charge.
And then we were in La Ceiba. The shanties built against the fence spoke to the new arrivals loud and clear – you are entering a land with a story much older, deeper, more proud and more troubled than your own. Life here has not always been easy but it has always been and always will be if it is the will of God. Watch your step as you leave the comfort of your plane, a modern trapping, and enter a world that has the power to swallow you whole and never spit you out.
The airport was surprisingly small for a city larger than life in the stories of my childhood. It also surprised me how quickly we arrived and cleared the lines – there was a mere hour between boarding in George Town and stepping out of the airport into La Ceiba. It was much faster than the flight to Jamaica, the birthplace of my other grandparents.
The land on the face of it is similar to that more familiar womb but more extreme in her beauty and more lush with food. I never dreamed it possible but it is so. But there is more poverty here and less reliable infrastructure. There is more struggle and less strife. The sense of the people is very different. Hondurans seem much more at ease with themselves than Jamaicans do in their homeland. There is less to prove, more determination to enjoy. The music is more love song than it is fight – mas amor que guerra.
My family is from the islands and they are said to be quite different to the mainland. But already I feel part of this place.
Nena picked us up with a neighbour in his pickup truck and she met Monkey with kisses and joyful greetings of “Que gorda! Mira la! Ha crecido MUCHO mucho!” Monkey glowed into her Nena’s arms and was met with kisses. She was squeezed between Nena and Myce as mother embraced daughter and then turned to me with welcome kisses. Flush with joy and full of Honduran zest, Nena laughed a generous and confident laugh at Monkey’s wiggling. “Que bonquito tiene!”
(I love it! I love the bonquito – the Caymanian word “bonkey” + the spanish diminutive “ito” = el bonquito. Word stolen.)
The truck pulled out on to a two lane road well paved and lightly trafficked. We rode behind a yellow bus with “Jesus is my friend” on the back and I couldn’t help but chuckle. Already I felt at home. We crossed over a wide river named the Rio Danto and I took in the smell of water untouched by salt. The same cold front that we left behind in Cayman was here now over La Ceiba and there had been rain. As we drove carefully through, Ceiba trees dripped water in a picture reminiscent of the rainforest they once formed here. Turning into the suburb toward Nena’s home, the ride changed to twists and turns through narrow lanes of river rock, craters and boulders.
I met Myce’s family once we passed the “puentecito Nena” as it is called. Her brother and two younger cousins were waiting to smother Monkey with love. She was a little overwhelmed but like a true socialite adjusted quickly, the Spanish in her Spanglish standing out even more. She basked in the open and unashamed love of her family and it struck me that there is no wonder such a child can be such a pleasure – she is showered with love.
The family home is perched over a stream and has many levels. Several hours into being here I am sat now on the porch looking through columns that support the roof above and out over the garden a level below. Hills surround us and Nena’s homemade wine warms me as well as the nap I have not long awakened from. The air is cool and the carne asada con tortillas, chimol and frijoles have filled me.
Today I am at peace and at home. In Honduras.