Walter – (Mysterious Happening #1) – A tale of YAG

 Family secrets and secret family – all revealed in God’s time!

OK so this didn’t begin as a YAG story.  It began on the same day of the YAG and was one of the two mysterious happenings that changed the faces of my present and of my future.  I invite you to pray for me that it be a change that stays with me forever.

This first mysterious happening began with an invitation.  Our church, the Cayman Islands Baptist Church, hosted over 30 pastors from Honduras and Cuba for a weekend of continued education and training.  It was a retreat and the visitors were hosted by church families and went to full days of training by American and Caymanian pastors (translated to Spanish) and the pastor of our sister church in Cuba (translated into English).  Two of these gentlemen were hosted by my parents and I shared a few memorable meals with them, sharpening iron with iron and refining my own language skills.  In church on Sunday the whole contingent treated us to a heavy baritone rendition of a well-known praise song in spanish and Pastor Randy introduced a few of them by name.

Enter Walter.  Or should I say, THE WalterS.  Walter Bush Snr. and Walter Bush Jr. from the First Baptist Church of La Ceiba.  The name Bush hit me like a cold water drop from an a/c unit and I turned with eyes lit up to my mom.  She was smiling and wiggled her eyebrows at me.  After service ended and our church family gathered together to catch up I walked up to a YAGgie girlfriend of mine speaking to two vaguely familiar men.  As I came into earshot I heard one of them say to her “Our roots are in Cayman but we wouldn’t have a clue as to where to look to find our family here”.  On approach the older man lifted eyes identical to mine – a rare mix of hazel and green – and I said “You must be the Bushes”.

Thus began an animated conversation with my cousins.  Mr. Walter Snr. is the image of what I have always imagined my grandfather to look like.  My mom confirmed it to me – his height, his eyes, his aura of calm is much like her father.  Walter Jr. and I spoke at length of what it is to be a Bush – the satellite ears, our unique battle as a family with compulsiveness, the addictions that our compulsiveness can drag us into, our family attachment to mutton peppers, our family recipe for our famous pepper sauce (IMAGINE!), the power of our personalities.  We were invited to visit them and exchanged email addresses and parted ways with smiles deep down in our hearts.

And now the Walters have called… on the day that I dream of handing out cupcakes in La Ceiba.

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Goodbyes and the Eagle

And the little Monkey shall lead me…

This morning as I wake to bread and guava jelly made by Nena and black coffee I rise with a grateful heart and the knowledge that I am truly privileged.  I am blessed with the love of an aunt in Myce and a cousin in Monkey and I am honoured with the friendship of their amazing family.  I must say THANK YOU to each of them for touching my life.

First there are the sipotes, Fiore, quiet and efficient little gallina, and Christian – “No soy ‘Christian’, soy ‘Krristiang’.  Soy hondureño, no me gusta como dicen ‘Christian’ en inglés!” (He hates how his name sounds in English so I got pronunciation instructions.)  He is funny and stubborn with little man ways in his young form about to burst into adolescence.
And then there is Bo, already a man at 19 with a gentl espirit and a will of iron.  It is fascinating to see his will meet the will of Monkey’s in confrontation!  She has her little fingers around his heart but he is her match when she steps out of line.  His companionship during this trip has reminded me of my own brother, another gentle man of iron, and I am honoured to be his friend.
But the center of this family and the rock on which they lean is Nena.  “Ab’ela Nena” Monkey calls her, over and over in a slow chant, but she is Nena to all her friends.  A woman of colourful intensity and passion, spirit and integrity, a cancer survivor and a warrior soul, she has been my hostess and my guide, my sage and my joy.  And these have been an inspiring four days with her.  Her family is blessed to have a lifetime of Nena and everything and everyone in her orbit benefits for her fairness and her gracious generosity.
Monkey and Myce remain in Honduras while I make my way home to my usual life.  They will rest in the womb of their family awhile longer and I will miss them very much.  Nena has packed me up with her homemade wine and cocoa powder, stories of La Ceiba and treats for my family.
I am sorry to leave these loved ones but will return to my daily life the better for having been with them.
Goodbyes are always difficult with people you love.  Today I felt tears tickle the back of my eyes as Fiore hugged me goodbye and Kristiang told me to make sure I took everything with a cheeky little tilt to his head.  The morning went quickly – breakfast on the patio and the drive to town to buy queso to take home to my mom.  All packed and ready to go, I settled with my Myce on the porch.  Monkey took me for a walk in the garden, Fiore climbed the guava tree and Bo cleaned the glass on the truck for our journey… just another afternoon in Honduras.  But today I must say goodbye.
The heart-wrenching parting over, I found myself sitting in the waiting room in Aeropuerto Internacional Golosón with a panoramic v iew ofthe mountains.  The clouds hung in tendrils over the peaks and slid mysteriously over like a seal sliding into a pool.  My goodbyes lingered bittersweet as my bird, Cayman Airways, taxied in.
Only an hour ago I was sat on Nena’s porch looking at another beauty fly toward me.  This one was born to fly and with respect I realized I could never have a claim on it.  The eagle circled, looking for prey in the lowlands off Nena’s porch.  My breath caught as it dipped out of sight only to soar again, likely with something wriggling for its life in its strong beak.  The wildness was breathtaking and there was a quickening of our blood as we all stood, eyes to the sky, watching.  My camera was packed and I didn’t want to miss a second of the sight of this untamable bird.
But its presence, its wild glory, will stay with me in a place in my heart right next to Nena, Bo, Myce, Monkey and the sipotes.  I leave them in the hands of God, La Ceiba and the Eagle.

No more rain… no more pain…

That last night as I stood looking over the night sky a sense that this moment would be special came to me.  There are defining moments in life that we do not recognize at the outset, so cloaked are they in the veil of the ordinary.   But their flavour lingers and their perfume settles on your soul to become a part of you, an enrichment of you, and a turning point for you.  This time with Nena sat out over the rain-washed garden and looking up into the stars of La Ceiba with un tragito is one of the memories I treasure most from my short time in Honduras.

We spoke of life, of the love of country, of the power of womanhood.  She asked me what was happening in my life and sat waiting as I spoke of my love of work.  I do love my job and throw myself in.  When that topic was exhausted she sat waiting some more, looking at me gently.  Sensing no escape I went on, told her of my troubles, my struggle to recover from a few heavy blows in swift succession.  I didn’t belabour or expand and in a few short sentences cut to the core.  There was no need to embellish – Nena feels it as I do.  “Trraicionera” she swore under her breath and as I finished she spat out “Mentiroso!”

Aiii m’hija…” her advice to me was priceless and matter of fact.  No need for dramatics.  The power of her feelings came across without the theatre of flowery words.  “Mejor soltera que mal acompañada, m’hija.  Hay mujeres tracioneras en esta vida… y hombres mentirosos… interesadas en cada calle… ”  She advised me for some time on the management of my friendships, the balance of my personal life and my work, and the part I can play in my family life.

She went on to tell me of her life, of her own deep love and the devastation of betrayal.  She told me of her suffering, of her passion for her family and her city.  I listened to the beautiful melody of her spanish and felt my own battery recharging as she continued on, great peace in her voice together with the quick-blood of life.

In life there are defining moments brought about by powerful colourful people.  Not for my Nena the essence of insipid pastel yellow and baby blue.  She is a woman of pulsing blood-red like her ginger lilies, the lush green of the life of her mountains, and the sharp, clear lightning of her intelligent mind.

Across Latin America there are peaks and valleys, love and pain, people of dominance and people of passion.  My Nena is a mountain, plain as day.  Never again will I apologise for feeling deeply, for speaking powerfully, for being all of me at full intensity.  Never will I feel shame at being too much or too scary or too bold or too strong.  There is a whole continent of people who feel as deeply as I do and do not fear to show it.  It makes us dangerous when we want to be, strong when we need to be, and an ocean-depth full of love when the time comes for us to be.

This is who I am.  And thank you Nena for encouraging me to be.  To be me.

A tear for your love… a tear I will forever cry…

So many bolero, so many tears.  The latin world is awash with them and each one has its home in truth.

Today I met two little boys.  One is two years old and silent, his brown hair cut like a bowl and his eyes big and rich cups of café con leche.  Monkey tried to draw him out to play with her blocks and her toys but he wouldn’t move.  He wouldn’t come to me when I tried to tempt him from his grandmother’s knees into my warm jacket despite obviously being quite cold there in Nena’s living room.  His older brother is four years old, protective and independent.  His will be a very big job and already he has assumed some of the manhood he has inherited in tragedy.

Four weeks ago these little boys bore witness to their father’s murder.

He was twenty-seven years old and a hard worker.  He was so hard a worker in fact that he had begun to taste the illusive flavours of success.  He drove a new car and bought property out in the country in a town where a sister of his lived.  She was warned to tell him not to come out to the land but he didn’t get the message in time.  His mother recounts to me the story of her grief.

On the day he died he took his wife and two children together with his father and cousin to the land.  They worked from early in the morning until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon.  Bunches of bananas were cut and crops of all kinds readied to load into the vehicle.  The family was sat on a blanket spread in the field eating when one by one men appeared from out of the brush surrounding them.  They numbered around 30 and the first to speak said “we mean you no harm”.

“No, no, no, no, NO” protested a man from the outer edge of the circle.  He elbowed his way in toward the family and the woman would remember that his eyes were red with blood.  “You are ALL going to die today.  Because I am huuunngrry to kill.”

The woman held her children to her tight and the men were trapped where they had been sitting, more than twenty automatic weapons trained on them.  The killers wrested the little boys from their mothers’ arms and held her back.  Their father went ballistic, struggling to his feet screaming “Leave my children alone!”

The man of the red eyes said to him with a nasty smile “Because you cannot behave yourself, you will be the first to die.”

The killing began and three men lay dead when it was over.   The father died in horror and fear believing his family too would be killed.  When the shooting stopped suddenly there was an eerie silence and the deafness of guns shot too close.  The returning birds, skittish with their own fright, would behold the sight of two boys, aged two and four, clinging to the bloody corpse of their father as their mother held him in her arms helpless.  Finding no fun in the prey of a distraught mother and two young children, the killers moved on to the car, sitting in it, opening the hood and going over it like a prospective purchase, their laughter ringing out to meet the hesitant renewed birdsong.  Weapons slung easily over shoulders now, AK47s and pistols.  The dead man’s gun was propped, useless, against a tree far away from the killing circle, where it would be found later by investigators.

“Una lágrima por tu amor… Una lágrima lloraré” ~A random bolero on the radio the day I was told this story.

When the police arrived to collect the bodies, they were met with enemy fire.  One officer fell that day, leaving another woman widowed and more boys orphaned.  It would take seven truck loads of police and security officers to reclaim the bodies of the four men who had only hours been fathers, loving and hot-blooded, the fierce protectors of their children.

As the grief-stricken grandmother recounted these atrocities in Spanish, repeating parts I did not understand in English, Nena wept, her own tragedies forgotten.  The youngest boy with the coffee eyes would not leave the grandmother’s familiar knees.  I looked on the beautiful child and saw a story too often true.

Just Friday night a young doctor was killed outside a discotheque in Tegucigalpa.  He was from La Ceiba and visiting for the graduation of his younger sister in the nation’s capital.  In San Pedro that same night a friend of my family too was gunned down.  Then there was the cousin a few years ago who was kidnapped by the gardener and murdered, another who was assassinated on the highway, and still another that was murdered on his boat on the high seas.

This is a land where tears are shed and moments of life are treasured, guns are in pretty handbags and waistbands and life taken for cheap.  It is the land of beautiful orchids, fierce faith and delicious food, the power of friendship and the orphans of tragedy.

The four year-old with a growing gravity to his carriage told his grandmother days before our visit “Nana, I know my Daddy isn’t coming back.  I know where he is sleeping.  Don’t worry Nana, I understand that his body is here asleep but his heart is with God.”

…y La Mañana de Dolorfín!

Never enough cafe negro!

Monkey woke me with her startled cry when her mummy disappeared AGAIN – this time to the bathroom.  There were smiles and hugs when she reemerged.  This little girl is amazing – she wakes up laughing!

Nena asked me before I rolled over “tienes goma?”  At first I didn’t feel the hangover but in the shaking of my head the Flor de Caña woke up and my brain screamed in answer to its call.

Breakfast has never been more welcome.  Cafe negro with pan de la muerte.  Black coffee and the ‘bread of the dead’.  Halloween is near and here and there Catholic traditions shine through in this latin land.  The orange and lemon zest in this cake-like bread is a perfect match to my coffee.  Today I need two cups and a painkiller.  And Bo, fast becoming a new brother to me, presented me with a little foil package.  Myce has taken a panadol that isn’t even touching her goma.  But Bo swears by Dolorfín.  “Dolorfín, el fin del dolor” laughs Myce by way of explanation.

I remember as a child the stories from Honduras of the “Mejoral”.  It was the magic drug for some time and had something like panadol and codeine in it.  People were taking it for everything that ailed them – headache, cancer, gunshot wounds, indigestion.  Mejor – better, Mejoral – to get you better.  But today it is Dolorfín.  And Dolorfín is WORKING.

This morning I’ll take anything to get rid of my gummy goma and enjoy my last full day and full night in La Ceiba.

La Noche de Flor De Caña…

Can’t have us drunk AND armed no can we?

The night started around 9 p.m. First we woke up and got ready.  Sleep was sweet and I woke up slowly with a warm water bath bailed from a bucket.  There is running water, yes, but today it is freezing.  It comes and goes on the whims of the river in this city of Ceiba trees.  When it is flowing strong it is caught in barrels for the next time it goes.

We started the night, me, Bo and Myce, in a wide open-air restaurant next to a five-star hotel by the sea. The hotel was beautiful to behold and I was told with raised eyebrows that a night there would cost US$100 (SO EXPENSIVE Bushy!  and I’m thinking SOOOO CHEAP FOR FIVE STARS!  But this is La Ceiba).  La Palapa, our restaurant, had the air of a treehouse with two floors and an open air dance floor that people on the balconies above could look down into.  It was wet but cool and very pleasant.  The smell of the sea mixed with the rain in the air and the liquor of womens’ perfume.

There was a live band, eclectic with horns, maracas and keys and two male vocalists who transitioned perfectly from merengue to punta to bolero to bachata as the crowed willed them.  I am convinced that there are sounds that only a latino can make – a voice both grating and true to the note, more of brass than of woodwind.  One of the vocalists had such a voice.  The other was as smoothe as honey and flowed from one style to another in a way that would make a woman’s knees go week if only he was a bit taller.

The waitress took our orders of Flor de Caña and sprite (sin hielo?  You shooor??  Doble o sencilla?  Doble.  No prableng).  Flor de Caña, the Cane Flower, a rum made in Honduras and neighbouring Nicaragua.  Cane does not flower to the best of my knowledge, but it grows like a bamboo with sugar caked in its fibrous stalk.  The Flor de Caña is a mystical spirit, best on ice but carefully mixed for delicate stomachs this night.

We sat on chairs artfully made from the cross sections of very large trees.  Each seat had a different size and shape but they were heavy and strong.  We took photos with shining faces.

How alike our skins glowed from the Flor de Caña and the joy at being together in La Ceiba!  The honey of the blood of Europeans mixed with the exotic flavourings of our region is the colour of the golden rum.  We are just as fragrant as our rum, as passionate, as flammable as the Flor.  The air of the exotic wafts off our family as we pay our lempiras and leave.

On the way out I take photos of the sign.  It had me laughing when we came in.  “Prohbido ingresar con armas” prohibited to enter with arms.  Latinos are a passionate people.  It would be most unwise to have us drunk AND armed at the same time.

The rain has not stopped.  It is as though I have brought with me a deluge to La Ceiba that will continue until I leave.  La Zona Viva (the Live Zone) is alive and well tonight and we pass bars and clubs one after the other heaving with music and dancing people even in the rain.

Soon we arrive at Hibou, a massive nightclub.  It is beautiful and modern, more modern than any club I have been to in the Caribbean.  In fact I struggle to remember the last time I’ve been in a club this nice.  PERIOD.  Clubs in London came close in style and size but could not touch this music or ever come close to the beauty of the people, the women especially, moving to the rhythm.

We are early and get ourselves mas Flor.  The club fills quickly and with our first drink in Hibou in hand we three join a few scores of people on the lighted floor.  The floor is like a Michael Jackson video and I’m tickled pink about it here in La Ceiba.  Who would have thought?

The music also surprises me!  Music from Jamaica, Trinidad, South Beach, London, favourites of mine mixed in with new reggaeton.  The Caribbean meets Honduras in my veins and starts to dance.  For a few seconds it is just me and the music and then Bo comes into view.

I LOVE the latin sense of manhood.  That boy can dance!  And he’s not afraid to, not here, where everyone dances and self-expression is a virtue.  Not for the Hondureños the wall flower macho stance.  Everyone here moves well and with feeling, true latinos.  They don’t have the sharp macho edges of the Jamaicans nor the indian whine of the Trinis but move in smoothe curves, rico y suave.

I am sure we cramped Bo’s style.  His dutch father blessed him with an uncommon height that puts him a head above the others in La Ceiba automatically.  His mother Nena blessed him with a handsome face and eyes that laugh all by themselves.  Myce too has these eyes and they are dancing now.  We both danced with Bo, all three of us losing our voices one song at a time singing out loud to the music and powered by Flor de Caña.

Later, girls hungry for the teenaged Bo’s attention would ask if I was his girlfriend.  This made me laugh out loud – “Aii Bo… tengo diez años mas que tu mi amor.  Puedes decirlas que soy tu “sugar mama”!”  (Aiii Bo, I have ten years on you.  You can tell them I’m your sugar mama!)  But what a compliment!  To think I look young enough to be with a 19-year-old.  I still laugh to write this!

Baleadas de La Línea – 3 a.m. food

Myce and I tired around 3 a.m.  Or was it 4?  We made our way to a waiting taxi.  Bo waved his admirers goodnight and climbed into the front seat, closing the doors behind us sugar mamas.  Everyone was hungry and so we had the taxista pass by La Línea – the famous train tracks of La Ceiba – for baleadas.

In the near future I will have to write something special about the food.  I cannot do it justice in any other way but in its own post.

The baleadas were amazing this morning, with strips of beef and pieces of chicharon.  They were so good they were gone by the time we pulled into Nena’s gate.

Fiore let us in and told us how Monkey had cried until she’d been sick.  “Que rabia tiene esta muchacha!”  But before the story ended I was clean and sliding under my stallion blanket.  Fast asleep in a minute.