The Prophet of Tela
September 27, 2011 § 2 Comments
This weekend, Doctor Ivonne, my best (and perhaps only) yoga student in El Progreso, invited me to spend the day with her and her sister Marlena at Tela Beach, which is just about an hour’s drive away from El Progreso. After a few mid-morning morning delays on her end, I found myself sitting in the back of Ivonne’s SUV as we cruised down the highway, the tropical green landscape an absolute garden on both sides, with distant blue mountains speckled all over with trees.
Most Progreseños I know treat the trip to Tela in a similar fashion. First, an emergency stop must be made about 20 minutes into the journey at TD’s, a local restaurant that seems to be just as obligatory for Hondurans as a highway tollbooth. They all go there, despite the tales they can all tell about the restaurant owner and his shady dealings. As suspect as those dealings might be, they don’t stop anyone from going inside to purchase their beans and tajadas and toasted circles of hardened flour with dried fruity sugar on top, which they gladly take to go on their way to the beach.
Once we were out of TD’s, the adventure continued. Ivonne decided to make another stop at a local fishery, which has two fresh water lakes full of thousands of tilapia that are used for a favorite local dish – pescado frito. Ivonne, Marlena, and I laid down in hammocks as we waited for the fish to get beaten to death, gutted, and then scaled. Ivonne squirmed as she thought about what was happening to the poor fish, but once they were ready she hopped out of the hammock and accepted the bagged goods gladly.
And again were off towards Tela. Our next stop was a repair shop. Something in Ivonne’s house needed fixing, which came as no surprise since its seems like almost everything in this part of the country is a broken hand-me-down from the United States. Ivonne took a good amount of time getting her supplies, and Marlena took the opportunity to take a generous nap, which left me in the back of the car alone to do things like blow spit bubbles and try – but fail – to make my eyes move in opposite directions.
We passed a stretch of road where street vendors were selling lichas – spiky, red, and monstrous-looking shells with clearish-white ovals of fruit inside that look and feel like eyeballs as you roll them around on your tongue before biting. After stopping to purchase the fruits, it only took a few seconds until there were four, five, and then six sun-crisped arms of street vendors sticking plastic bags full of lichas in Marlena’s face. Ivonne and Marlena were so confused by the commotion of the tag along street vendors that neither realized that both had paid separately for the lichas until it was too late.
We shrugged off the incident and carried on, for the beach awaited us!
When we finally made it to Ivonne’s baby blue beach house, I expected to spend the rest of the day in peace and quiet, which was much needed after a busy, crowd-filled Carnaval weekend in El Progreso. However, to my surprise, small children started emerging from the surroundings, like the munchkins upon Glinda’s pink and bubbly arrival to Munchkinland. Some came from the neighboring houses. Some snuck in through Ivonne’s front door and slipped through another door onto the porch. Others seemed to have fallen from the rafters or have popped up from the sand. Before long, Ivonne’s entire porch had been invaded by Garifuna youth, who treated Ivonne’s house like a jungle gym. Half of the children performed cartwheels, banged on drums, and danced to Punta to impress Ivonne and her sister. Meanwhile, the other half dangled off of the porch’s wooden beams and climbed up the nearby palm trees, ravaging them for coconuts that they would open up later with machetes.
The children huddled around Ivonne, yelling at her aggressively in their competition for attention. It appeared that each one was too impatient to wait his or her turn for something as urgent as dialogue with the dentist and television show host known locally as “La Doctora” who only makes it to Tela once or twice a month.
In no mood to deal with humans of the shrunken variety, I gathered my belongings – $2 shades, a book, and a Brazilian sarong – and went straight to the beach. It was one of those relentlessly hot days where the golden sand scalds your feet if you’re not wearing sandals. I didn’t mind. I knew I’d eventually be in the water where I’d be able to float on my back and blow more bubbles.
As I neared the water, I happened upon the disappointing sight of a small child playing in the sand. It’s not that I didn’t want the child to exist; I just didn’t understand why he had chosen to play in the patch of sand directly in front of Ivonne’s house when the rest of the long stretch of beach was absolutely empty.
I nodded at the boy and jumped in the water wearing my Brazilian speedo, which must have shocked the child as much as it did to most of the Hondurans who have ever seen me wear it. But I was not at the beach to worry about the thoughts of others. Untanned thighs are unattractive thighs in US culture, and I was on a mission to even out my color.
While floating on my back, the little boy swam over to me and announced his name.
“I AM JUNIOR!”
I was so intimidated by the 8-year-old’s confidence that I failed to say a word.
“WHAT’S YOUR NAME?”
“Me?” I asked, gulping. “My name is Michael.”
“Michael. Michael. Like Michael Jackson?”
“Yes, like Michael Jackson.”
“The Prophet says Michael Jackson is the devil.”
“What?” I asked, my voice nearly cracking. “Who is the Prophet?”
“The Prophet is an American lady at my church. She says that Michael Jackson is evil and that he is suffering in hell.”
“How does the Prophet know that?” I asked.
The boy shrugged his boney shoulders. “I don’t know. She just does.”
“Well, I don’t think Michael Jackson is suffering in hell. I think he’s singing and dancing Billie Jean over and over again for all of his friends.”
Which, on second thought, may have very well been what all condemned souls were obliged to witness.
“Are you Christian?” the ever-abrasive Junior asked.
“Do you believe in God?”
“Why is your hair so long?”
“Because I like it this way.”
“Even if it looks like a girl’s?”
I splashed water at Junior’s face.
“My hair does not look like a girl’s!”
Junior laughed off the splash and wiped at his eyes.
“Hey, do you know how to do water kicks?” he asked.
“Water kicks.” Junior demonstrated by spinning around in a circle, lifting up his leg, and slamming it into the water.
“You mean lift up my leg, spin in a circle, and slam it into the water?” I asked. I scoffed. I wasn’t a trained black belt in Taekwondo for nothing. Determined to prove my martial arts skills to Junior, I lifted up my leg, spun around, and demonstrated the motion.
Junior looked at me with a solemn expression that was entirely devoid of awe.
“You’re not very good at those, are you?” he asked.
“What are you talking about?” I snapped. “I just did that perfectly!”
“No you didn’t. You have to kick the water.”
The boy repeated the motion and kicked the water at an angle, creating a small splash that nearly reached me.
“Ohhh,” I said with sudden realization. “You’re supposed to kick the water at the other person?”
Junior nodded vigorously.
Not one to turn down the open invitation to kick water at Junior, I cleared my throat and tried again. This time I successfully lifted my leg out of the water and slammed it on the surface in Junior’s direction so that a diagonal splash made direct contact with his face. Junior laughed and wiped at his eyes, after which we continued spinning in circles and kicking water at each other for approximately five minutes.
“This is fun!” I said. “We’re like Goku on Dragonball Z! He has long hair too, you know.”
Junior stopped kicking at the water and stared at me with urgent eyes.
“Goku?” he asked.
“Goku’s the devil,” Junior said. “The Prophet said so.”
“What?” I asked. “Goku is not the devil! He is an animated cartoon.”
Junior took a deep breath in preparation for the tale he was about to tell.
“The Prophet says that Goku and Pikachu and all of those chino characters are devils because they live in the second heaven. The second heaven is a very bad place and it’s where all the demons live. The Prophet says the chinos draw the cartoons and they go to the second heaven where they live with the demons and they get sent through the television screen to look for more people they can take back with them. They’re diabolical.”
I asked Junior to repeat the story once more just in case everything I had heard the first time happened to have gotten horribly lost in translation. He repeated. It hadn’t.
“But I have an American friend who is an animator,” I said. “He draws cartoons that appear on television, and they don’t hurt anyone.”
“Well that’s different. He’s American.”
Evidently the Prophet had a thing against chinos.
“But Michael Jackson was American,” I said.
“But Michael Jackson was different. He’s the devil. Just like Lady Gaga.”
My jaw dropped. That was the last straw. I wanted to have a talk with Junior’s prophet right then in there, speedo a biblia.
“Lady Gaga is not the devil!” I said. “Why would she be the devil when she embraces everyone equally in her music and wants people to be who they are without worrying about what other people think?”
Junior shrugged. “The Prophet said she is.”
“You know what, Junior? I think anyone who comes to Honduras from the United States and starts calling herself the Prophet has serious mental problems.”
Junior’s excited expression collapsed, and his eyes appeared as though they were about to burst free from their sockets.
“You know what you need to do, Junior?” I continued. “You need to start asking questions. Anytime the Prophet tells you something, ask her why. When she gives you an answer, ask her why again. And then when she gives you another answer, ask her why a third time. And a fourth time!”
“Because you have to learn to be an independent thinker.”
“Because it’s your right to be able to decide things for yourself.”
“Because people can insert falsities into your head that aren’t true.”
“Because they want you to think the way they think!”
I stopped in the hope that Junior wouldn’t realize that I, like the Prophet, had also taken it upon myself to insert thoughts into the innocent child’s mind. Fortunately, Junior stopped asking questions, for he had distracted himself with a floating clump of seaweed that had wrapped itself around a thin brown stick.
“You know what, Junior?” I asked.
“Why don’t you ask the Prophet what she thinks about yoga? You know what yoga is right?”
Junior smiled, lifted up both of his hands, closed his eyes, and started humming. I was happy that he had heard of yoga before, but I couldn’t tell from his gesture whether or not he was like the 95% of Hondurans I met in El Progreso who believed yoga to be an evil form of witchcraft and wizardry.
“Yeah, then ask her what she thinks about that,” I said.
“Just because. I teach yoga and la Doctora is one of my students. Did you know that?”
“La Doctora is one of your students?” Junior asked, shocked.
“She’s a good person and she does yoga. Just remember that.”
“Are you and la Doctora married?” Junior asked, his question a serious whisper.
I sighed. My hands were growing pruney and my legs hadn’t gotten any tanner during my conversation with Junior, which meant that my life lesson with him was just about up. Besides, there wouldn’t be enough time to get into all of the complexities of la Doctora’s life or mine, especially when each of our histories were prime material for getting both of us thrown in the nearest fiery pit of hell, at least according to the Prophet of Tela.
“I’m getting out now, but just remember to ask her about yoga, alright?” I asked.
Junior nodded obediently. I had a feeling he would follow through with the request, even before he offered his final thought.
“Sure thing, Michael Jackson!”