Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

26 July 2007

Jose-Luis, The Conclusion

You remember our former employee, Jose-Luis? I've written about him here and here. He was a piece of unfinished business in Guanaja, and I wondered how that story was going to end? I'll bet you were too.

To recap: Jose-Luis was a likable, seemingly great guy with a perpetual smile and a wife and three kids, one of whom was a newborn. He was also a crack addict. And he got fired for various reasons but mostly because the Boss became aware of his little drug problem. Lalo and I sat him down and had the usual Come To Jesus talk. We'd help him out, but there were strings attached. In return, he had to uphold his end of the bargain we were making with him. Getting his job back would not be simple or easy. First, he would have to prove that he was completely off drugs and more importantly, that he could stay off them. Secondly, he would be subject to regular drug-testing. Tearful apologies were made and sincere-sounding promises were proffered. I left the meeting skeptical but hopeful. I liked Jose-Luis; he was a really nice guy.

Jobs are scarce in Guanaja. Even so, Jose-Luis got himself one as a deckhand on the "yacht," the scary-looking rustbucket ferry that makes regular death-defying runs between Guanaja and the mainland town of Trujillo. But he quit that when someone stole his overnight bag from his bunk (probably another crewmember) and the captain of the vessel wouldn't do anything about it (might've been he who stole it). I chastised Jose-Luis for quitting before finding another job. That possibility evidently never occurred to him. His search for a new job was not exactly diligent.

The second indication of trouble came to light when Jose-Luis would send his kids around at night to various people on the Cay saying, "Could you give us 100 lempira? Mr. Bob said it would be okay and that he'd pay you back." The people knew that this wasn't the case. Guanaja is just not that big a town, and everyone knows everyone else's business. (It's pretty creepy, actually.)

Additionally, Jose-Luis would attempt to "borrow" money every time he saw me. Two-hundred lempira here, three-hundred lempira there. "Can you buy me a pack of cigarettes?" It started to get out of hand. I don't mind helping a guy out, but I was starting to feel like I was being taken advantage of.

Many of our employees had no decent shoes. They'd come to work at our construction site in sandals or ratty, falling-apart sneakers (no OSHA in Honduras!). So one of the things I started doing was to have a friend in the States buy pairs of $17 El Cheapo Wal-Mart sneakers in various sizes and send them down on our plane. Then I'd give them out to the ones who needed them most. Jose-Luis got a pair, of course.

One recent Saturday night, Lalo, Jose-Luis and I went out. We needed Lalo as our interpreter, as Jose-Luis doesn't speak English and my Spanish was still rudimentary at best. We started off at Manati where we feasted on some of Hansito's fine, authentic German food, lots of rum and a little Coke. Guess who paid? From there we went over to another bar, Castaways. I opened a tab. Lalo joined a spirited game of dominos; Jose-Luis was talking to some people he knew; I was talking with another Bob, the owner of the joint. We stayed a while, but not too late as I'm not exactly a party-all-night kind of guy anymore.

As we got ready to leave, one of the bartendresses handed me the bill: 850 lempira! I didn't have that much cash on me, but I said I'd come back on Monday to pay it (strangely, my credit was pretty good at all of the bars in Guanaja).

I did go back, when I was sober, in the cold light of day and scrutinized the bar tab. Turns out our little friend Jose-Luis was magnanimously buying his friends rounds of drinks. And not just drinks, but cigarettes too and frescos (sodas) for those who wanted them. What a guy! I guess he figured that he had a good gravy train going. Owner-Bob was laughing, Me-Bob wasn't. "Man, that guy was buying drinks for his friends all the time you guys were here and putting them on your tab," Owner-Bob said. "I thought you knew." Hey, I was already pretty shit-faced from all the drinking we did at Manati - what did I know? Or care?

Now look, the whole night only cost me about $90.00 for the three of us. Bear in mind that I was a willing participant, and I did have a good time too. So I'm not complaining in the least about the money. It's the principle of the thing. Why do people so unashamedly take advantage of your generosity? I'll never understand that.

Compounding this was the strong suspicion that Jose-Luis was not as drug-free as he'd promised to be. We learned that when Lalo and he got back to the Cay on that weekend night of drinking, a woman we know said that our little bro' showed up at her home, knocking on her door at two in the morn, stinking of booze, and trying to sell her some shoes...er, sneakers. Only one reason why a guy would be trying to sell a pair of shoes at two in the morning, folks: to buy a hit of crack.

There was more, but why bother? Lalo and I have our limits. And we'd both reached them. We realized that we'd made a mistake. Of all of the worthy causes in Guanaja, Jose-Luis was apparently, and sadly, not one of them. Hey, it sucks being wrong about somebody, but you know what? Sometimes you just are. Oh well.

When Jose-Luis heard that I was leaving Guanaja, he was frantically trying to get ahold of and speak with me. Unfortunately, without an interpreter, it was tough. I knew what he was asking of course, and told him as best I could that the gravy train had left the station...Elvis had left the building...Bob had left the island. He would get no more money out of me. He was on his own. Of the money I've "lent" him, I doubt I'll ever see a single lempira of it paid back in any way, shape or form. To the people of Guanaja, "lend" = "give." It's true! Just look in the dictionary...the Honduran dictionary, that is.

And so I found out today that his wife has left him due to his drug use; taken the kids and gone back to...who-knows-where. Good for her, I guess. Jose-Luis is reportedly "working on a fishing boat." I anticipate that when the boat comes back in, he will take his pay and join the other crewmembers in blowing all of it that first night on drugs and alcohol, as is the custom of so very many of the fine, upstanding men-boys who live and work in Guanaja.

Eh- we tried.


Matthew said...

I had been wondering how that guy was doing after your other posts. It's too bad. Just know that you can't really help someone unless they want to help themselves first. Hard to believe, but maybe in his mind he just hasn't hit rock-bottom yet. You did your best.

Sharon Jones - sltmjones@hotmail.com said...

Thanks for the update and I, too, hoped he would make it. I fear that most people on drugs don't want to quit and are too wrapped up in what this drug gives them as to what it takes away - your life! It was great of you to try and don't give up on other people. Guess the lesson here is lend support NOT money. Hey, I have a bar bill on Guanaja you can pay - I put it in your name and it is building up quite nicely. So, whenever you get back -----

Bob Barbanes said...

Thank you both for your comments. I may not have done my best; I simply did what I could. But the real story is not about poor-me and my misguided efforts, boo-hoo. It's about the tragedy that are these little crack-heads, who are so addicted that they throw their lives away. Jose-Luis is just one sad example. On Guanaja there are legions like him.

I thought I understood addiction on some level. I guess I was wrong.

Aaron Ortiz said...

Hi Bob,

Sorry to hear about Jose Luis. Unfortunately, Honduras is a "screw the other guy" country, that's why we're poor. See here:


I tend to be a generous and forgiving person, and more than once I know "friends" have tried to take advantage of it.

For that reason I've had to restrain my "messiah complex" a lot in Honduras.

Bob Barbanes said...

Aaron, normally I don't follow links any further than the first one, but out of curiosity I did click through to that bullshit essay by that "proteus" person.

The Prisoner's Dilemma has so many holes and flaws in it that it's not even funny. It seems to assume that both prisoners are equally guilty. (How often does this happen?) If so, it's a straw man argument from the start, at least as it applies to people in particular or societies in general.

Also, computer simulations that do not take the variables of human nature into account are worthless and irrelevant no matter how many times they "predict" certain results in how humans will behave.

In fact, it would be an awful, scary world if Christians exactly subscribed to the process outlined in The Prisoner's Dilemma. I cannot see how anyone with any level of self-righteousness or morals could adhere to it.

Without getting too deeply into the flaws of the process, let me just say that life is not always about retribution and punishment. In fact, how *do* you inflict retribution on someone to whom you've loaned money but will not repay it if there is no legal recourse? Do you beat him up? Steal something from him?

Sometimes all we can do is walk away and let the chips fall for the other party as they eventually may. My disappointment with Jose-Luis would not stop me from doing a similar thing again. If that implies weakness in your mind ("proteus" would say that it is suicide), I'm cool with that.

Finally, "proteus" invites readers to step into the "Comments" section and introduce themselves. Oh, really! That's curious, since we do not know who *he* is, nor does he tell us. I find it hard to take seriously someone who will not put his name on his work, or who must post under a pseudonym. (La Gringa is excepted because posting her real name would place her in grave danger.)

The fact that The Prisoner's Dilemma *may* explain some of the behavior of some Hondurans, I think it is largely coincidental or anecdotal at best. If you think it "fits," well...fine. But I think it's too simplistic an explanation. We must look for the root cause of why the collective morals of the nation have sunk so low.

Honduras may well be a "Screw The Other Guy" country, but I think the reasons for it are many and complicated. I don't agree that it is why Honduras is a poor country. Possible reasons for that could include: lack of cohesive national identity among indigenous cultures; no middle-class; lack of industrialized economy; lack of agrarian economy; no incentive for citizens to own small businesses; a system of non-self-sustaining government that has existed on foreign charity for hundreds of years and that rewards patronage at the expense of personal acheivement...the list goes on and on. None of these "problems" will be solved overnight, either.

David said...

As Ol' Bill once said, "All you can do is all you can do."
Thanks for trying.

Hal Johnson said...

I think those of us who are blessed not to be in the throes of addiction have a hard time comprehending the vise-grip addiction can have. Doesn't seem to matter whether it's alcohol, cocaine, meth, heroin, or food, the lure of old habits is always there, beckoning, whispering "Come this way." My better half and I know a guy who recovered from alcohol and cocaine addition, became born-again, and then started his own construction company, hiring mostly recovering addicts. He would pray with his workers at the beginning and ending of every work day. His business boomed. Imagine our shock, then, when we heard late last year that he had lost it all. He and his wife and started drinking and using again, she gambled away all of their money, and his once-thriving construction company was gone. It would be easy to just write all addicts off: "Fuck 'em, they did it to themselves." But then, some addicts do recover and go on to lead productive lives in the long-term sense. Most of them don't do it on their own; they have help from people who care. Jose-Luis may end up being a lost cause. Does that mean that your efforts were meaningless? I think not. You joined the ranks of people who chose to care, instead of the legions who would say "fuck 'em." Thanks for trying, Bob. I don't know if I'd want to live in a world where too many people just say "fuck 'em."