Everyone's definition of the word "paradise" is different, it stands to reason. However, Guanaja certainly would qualify as such in almost any book. Tropical and unspoiled, it offers a nice getaway...a nearly-perfect remedy from our modern, overdeveloped "civilization." Many gringos have adopted Guanaja as their new home. And when you find something so ideal, it is only natural that you want it to stay that way forever.
The trouble is, nothing stays the same. Everything changes. Sometimes change is good; sometimes it's bad. We have a certain amount of control over it, but not much. Life, as they say, goes on. With or without us.
I was at Hansito's Manati bar recently, talking with two local idiots. Well, not really "local" idiots: gringos who live in Guanaja permanently now. And maybe they're not really idiots. Alcohol just brings out the worst in people (and I should know!). But you know how it is when guys get to drinking - we think we can solve the world's problems. Oh, we're so smart when we're drunk!
Anyway, Guanaja is a pretty poor place overall. I mentioned my distress at the number of unemployed, idle men we see lounging around every day. Don't they have jobs? Why don't they have jobs! One of the guys I was with asked me if I knew what the Number Two source of income for Hondurans that live in Guanaja was? (The number one being fishing, I suppose.) I said I did not know.
"It's family members who move away and send money back," he said.
I had no way of verifying this information, so I shrugged said something insightful like, "Uhh, okay, that's pretty pathetic if it's true."
Then recently, on his "littlewoodenman" blog ("the ¡vaya pues! edition" - I love that), Canadian Matthew mentions that 1,050,000 Hondurans...14% of the country have left (fled?) to pursue careers in the Estados Unidos (United States). He takes this number from an article in a Spanish-language newspaper which in turn got it from a study by the Honduras National Commission for Human Rights. Read the story here. Do these Honduran ex-pats send money back to their families here? Indoobitably!
Now, the people of Guanaja do not need much money. They have no cars, no car payments, no car insurance. Many of them do not even own boats, so there is no gasoline bill. Housing is cheap, although food and electricity are expensive. (And of course there is the cell phone bill.) Even so, it does not take a whole lot of money to support a family in Guanaja. Our workers make the paltry equivalent of US$75.00 per week and seem to be doing okay, even those with families (which is, like, all of them).
So maybe it is possible that a family could exist in Guanaja solely on what is sent back by a relative living/working in the United States. But I digress. Back to that evening at Manati.
The conversation sort of lagged, and I concentrated on seeing how many glasses of Rum and Coke I could empty, as is my usual drill. Suddenly, apropos of nothing, the second idiot asked me if I liked Guanaja when I moved here?
"Of course!" said I, enthusiastically.
"Well then why do you want to change it?" he asked pointedly.
He was referring to the project we are doing: Brick Point. This is a 500+ acre, 200-homesite development with a huge marina and large commercial area. It is about as un-Guanaja as you can get - right now. Many gringos and ex-patriots do not like this development, as you might imagine. They see it as us spoiling their island. The trouble is, Guanaja isn't "their" island. And up and down the society food chain, the locals support what we're doing, even the mayor, who is a pretty intelligent, visionary kind of guy. And the locals are the ones who count, not rich gringos who vacation down here sporadically and think they control things because they have money.
Although my boss has been a homebuilder for most of his adult life, he does not want to build houses on Guanaja. He'd rather sell the homesites and then let a local company build the houses. He will help our current workers start such companies, then give them the recommendation when someone buys a homesite from us and needs a house built on it. Win/win.
What many gringos do not know is that my boss is building a trade school primarily at his expense. See, skilled workers are now and always will be in demand...workers who can read a blueprint and then build something to that specification. And build it with quality and accuracy and some sort of speediness. These skills are sorely lacking in Guanaja at the present.
So we'll build a school...which will train locals in all of the various construction techniques...give them a marketable skill...let them start their own companies, own their own businesses, hire their own employees...in other words, raise up the whole island. Sure, my boss could sell the homesites and build all the houses and walk away with nearly all of the money. It would be easy. But he is not like that. He genuinely loves Guanaja and wants to see it rise up and prosper and improve - not stagnate in its current state of depression and ennui. The trouble is, too many others want to see it be held down - do not want to see the island change at all. They like it just the way it is.
I got defensive with the two idiots. I said that I thought that what we were doing was a good thing for the island and the people who live here. And I said I didn't think it was acceptable that so many local families had to rely for their subsistence on members who move away and send money back. In fact, I thought that was pretty damn sad and that any civic-minded person with a conscience would try to do something about it. (Okay, I was up on my high horse a little. I get that way.)
The guys did not agree. They seemed to think that the status quo in Guanaja was just fine. Sheesh. At that point I knew I was fighting a battle of wits with two unarmed enemies.
Yes, our project is big. Yes, it will mean that Guanaja is going to change. Indeed, Brick Point may one day become the new "town center" of Guanaja the way Las Vegas developed the new casino area away from the original downtown. The Cay (Bonacca Town) may very well become a mere curiosity, an overcrowded, smelly place for tourists to avoid. Especially if they can do all of their shopping/eating/whatever at Brick Point and the surrounding areas.
Some gringos have come to Guanaja long ago and formed a mental snapshot of it. This snapshot is their permanent image of the place, and they do not want it to ever change. I completely understand that. And I completely understand that it is an impossibility. Guanaja will change. For better or for worse, it will. That's a hard thing for some to accept, those who would prefer to see it stay just the way it is forever. But wouldn't that be a sad thing?
I think the far better idea would be to get involved...work to ensure that the coming changes are done with foresight and intelligence and commons sense, qualities that are generally in short supply in places like Guanaja. And since you can't stop it, and development is going to happen anyway, it might as well be done smartly. To do that, you just can't leave it up to someone else.
There are good and bad developers. But I'll say one thing: the people of Guanaja better thank the Lord for a developer like my boss. If ever there was a person committed to "doing it right," it's him.