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.