by Edwina Doyle
Edwina Doyle, author of Midlife Monkeylala, about her experiences as a tourist and then a teacher on Roatan, visited the island in December for the first time since 2011 (see Culture section of January Voice). Below are some of her impressions and observations on renewing old acquaintances on the island.
In awe I gazed up at a magnificent tree in Gumbalimba Park. “It’s like an artistic sculpture,” I marveled. “The philodendron covering it is the size of dinner plates.”
“Yes,” Cheryl Galindo replied. “How could anyone look at this beauty and ever doubt that there’s a God?”
I murmured agreement as we continued our tour in the Galindo golf cart. “I’ve never seen such beautiful foliage in all my life,” I said. “It’s a real blessing to the Island that Marco (Galindo) has preserved this land for future generations.”
Cheryl had planted many of the trees and plants in the park and had been a valued advisor in its conception. I found myself once again filled with respect for this petite yet tenacious woman who has worked tirelessly to advance the education, ecology and culture of her beloved home.
Cheryl and I ate lunch with a room of seniors at the Roatan Rotary Club annual seniors luncheon in December. Participants, who represented a wealth of wisdom and experience, had come from all over the Island.
I yearned to sit at the feet of a 94-year-old woman wearing a pink and white hat, coordinated dress and white pearls so she could spread her treasure chest of stories before me. Fortunately, Sheryl Norman was flitting from table to table like a butterfly gathering nectar from the seniors for her oral history and genealogy projects (see November Voice).
The next day the generous Peggy Stranges of Clínica Esperanza gave Elba Rosa Cruz, my friend of 24 years, and me a ride to La Colonia, where most of Elba Rosa’s family lives.
“The road is finally paved,” I observed.
“Yes, Julio (Roatan Mayor Julio Galindo) did that,” Elba Rosa informed me.
When we came to the gully, I asked, “What happened to the bridge?”
Elba Rosa shrugged. “Oh, it washed away, but we can pass over.”
With Elba Rosa holding my hand and directing my feet to strategic rocks, I endeavored to “pass over.” While standing precariously midstream, children suddenly swarmed me with shouts of “Meez Weenie!” just as Elba Rosa and her brothers and sisters had done two decades earlier.
After hugs, kisses and obligatory photos, I distributed my meager gifts, wishing that I had more to give. As always, I received much more than I gave. Though lacking basic necessities and comforts, this family, like so many, were rich in spirit and love.
Yet, I was sad to observe so many one and two room plywood dwellings the size of a bungalow at Anthony’s Key Resort. Many had no running water, which necessitates bucket baths, and they cook on mud stoves in the yard. The ubiquitous five-gallon plastic water bottles huddled like blue sentries nearby.
A few trees provided merciful shade, but the hilly terrain was predominantly mud, dirt, rocks and rambling tree roots. Conspicuous by their absence were toys and books. Every country contains the affluent and the needy. Fortunately, Roatan is filled with islanders and foreigners with gentle hearts and generous spirits.
As I was recently reminded, the smallest gesture can mean the world to folks who have so little. Perhaps all the tourist venues could suggest that visitors bring a picture book or young adult novel.
Perhaps someone could make small tables and chairs so the children could do their homework, artwork and games outside, where they have light and fresh air. I’d love to see a rainbow of hammocks and flowering brushes and plants blooming like hope in barren, impoverished barrios.
Improving the aesthetics of a neighborhood is like applying a pretty band-aid, though, unless the cycle of poverty can be broken. Honduras needs to raise the minimum education (currently children are legally required to attend school only through the sixth grade, and in practice many drop out before then). In today’s world a sixth-grade education is as helpful as a man planting a garden with his hands tied behind him. The government also needs to stress population control. With the burden on our planet’s environment, it’s irresponsible to have inordinately large families.
If tourists become as rare as the wish willy (an endangered species of iguana once common on Roatan) due to unchecked crime, everyone will suffer. The island people are some of the most wonderful people on earth. They cannot afford to choose apathy over action, however, and must insist on the prosecution of criminals, installation of surveillance cameras in high-crime areas and a well-paid, well-trained, honest police force.
The people must demand that law enforcement close the drug houses. Most villagers know where they are and who runs them. After repeated offenses, board up the houses and give the criminals a one-way ticket to the mainland. Implement neighborhood crime watches, and reward those who are vigilant. Finally, establish a hotline so that crimes and potential crimes can be reported anonymously.
In former times, village matriarchs kept everyone in line. When the sun went down, most people went to bed or sat on their porches or under their houses and told stories. Those days are over. Island security needs to keep up with the times.