Oneyda’s Forty Days of Magic

November 22, 2011 § 2 Comments

Dancing into 27 with Oneyda de America

My birthday crept on me far more quickly than I had anticipated. All of the sudden it was Friday, and I had a full day of work to juggle – two hours of yoga in the morning, eight hours at OYE, and then three more hours of yoga in the afternoon. I would finally be finished by 8pm, which was the same exact hour I was supposed to be hosting a party at my house. To make things more complicated, all I had to show for party preparations was a giant vat of homemade red pepper humus that was sitting in my fridge. It was damn good humus, that I must say…but humus nevertheless.

Fortunately, my home, which is known throughout El Progreso as “LA MANSION,” sextuples as a café bar, magic shop, plaza, yoga studio, art gallery, and apartment all in one. As far as locations went, I was in luck since the Mansion has the unique capacity of taking care of itself.


Next on my to-do list were the guests, since without them you can’t have a party. The problem was that it was already my birthday and I hadn’t invited anyone. To my credit, I had previously delegated the inviting to two of my closest Honduran friends: Mahchi, an internationally renowned artist who owns the Mansion, and Ivonne, a local dentist/television show host and my most committed yoga student. Since I decided to throw myself a Karaokada, I left Mahchi and Ivonne in charge of finding local talent who would be able to sing. Ivonne said she would have her television show cover the event, which meant she could supply a computer screen for lyrics and cameras.

Televised coverage of my birthday broadcast throughout Central America…check.

Ivonne told me that we would need speakers and a sound system for karaoke. I volunteered to bring all of the equipment, which we had at my office at OYE.

But then another predicament arose. Since I had waited until the last minute to invite anyone, including my co-workers, I would have to invite them and then sneakily ask them if I could borrow the office’s sound equipment.

In the US, such a move would have come off as both transparent and tacky, despite my best intentions. Fortunately, things were different in El Progreso, as almost everything is done at the last minute here, with birthday parties being no exception. Had I actually planned my birthday party in advance, my co-workers probably would have discarded the information on instinct and forgotten about the event altogether.

My co-workers received the day-of invitation well, and none of them even commented about the fact that it was last minute. Instead, they started talking about what they were going to bring and what songs they wanted to sing. When I slipped in the bit about the sound equipment, my director waved his hand at me and said, “Of course, Mike!” before he delegated who was to bring the beans and nachos. About an hour later, my co-workers surprised me with a delicious chocolate cake, which we ate happily before we moved the equipment to the mansion.

Birthday cake…check.


Sound equipment…check.

After dropping off the sound equipment, I bumped into Mahchi at the Mansion. Wearing a proud grin, I told him that I had actually secured friends of my own to come to the party. To my surprise, Mahchi received the news with a scowl and pout.

“Well who’s going to host them?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Ummm…well…us?”

Us?” Mahchi asked. “Mikey boy…I have my list of friends who are coming and you have yours…and I’m only going to buy alcohol for my guests.”

I took a deep breath. Mahchi was in a Mahchi mood. I typically found it best to ride through Mahchi moods silently until the cause of his stress emerged.

“And all those indios you are going to invite are just going to drink up all of the alcohol!”

Sometimes Mahchi sounds a little racist in his Mahchi moods, but he means well.

“Don’t worry, Mahchi. I’ll take care of the beer. I just don’t have time to get it since I work until 8.”

“Give one of my workers here a list, and they’ll get it for you.”


Mahchi took a big Mahchi breath and sighed. “Sorry Mike…it’s just that I bought a whole liter of vodka…”

Liter of vodka…check.

“And dropped it outside before I came in…”

Liter of vodka…uncheck.

“I don’t have enough alcohol for everyone, and I’m a little stressed.”

“No worries, Mahchi. Take a breath. I’ll take care of the beer, you take care of your guests, and we’ll see each other at 8.”


I was off to the gym. After my first yoga class, Sabier, the aerobics instructor, came in to talk. I’m convinced that Sabier, were he to magically assume animal form, would be a rambunctious young tiger on the cusp of adulthood. He is full of energy at all times, and he has become my morning alarm ever since the new gym opened next door, yelling as loud as he can on his microphone at a roomful of mostly middle-aged woman who are in the process of sweating away half of their body weight in step class.

“So we’re still on for the party tonight, right?” Sabier asked. I had invited Sabier, along with the spinning and weight lifting instructors, before my first evening class.

“Of course, Sabier.”

“So should I bring anything? Like a present?”

I laughed. “No, you don’t have to bring anything. Just yourself.”

“Can I bring some friends?”

“Sure…why not?”

“They’re really big and muscular.”

“Then they can be the bouncers.”

“JA JA JA!!!”

“But you all have to sing and dance.”

“I don’t sing, but I dance.”

“I know. I see you teaching aerobics everyday.”

“JA JA…right! Este Michael…

I taught two more classes of yoga. I wanted to sprint out of the room after the last class, which ended exactly at 8pm, but I thought the students might find it odd to see their yoga instructor dashing out of the room in a stressed rush. So I decided to stay, which encouraged the students to linger. One kept me behind for longer than anticipated so she could inform me about a personal issue of hers.

“Sometimes when I’m walking in the morning with my weights my fingers start to tingle. Why is that?”

Sometimes my yoga students ask me questions about physical ailments, life, and love as thought they were communicating with a Magic 8 Ball. Like a Magic 8 Ball, I have a set of answers that almost always work: “It is certain,” “My sources say no,” “I’d definitely see a doctor about that,” or “Reply hazy, try again later.”

The student didn’t seem entirely satisfied with my answer, but I didn’t have much time to worry because Sabier was back and glaring at me with eyes that were partially covered by his downcast eyebrows. Sabier never looked at me like that, which meant something was awry. He gestured for me to come near by lowering his chin to his chest, like an angry Honduran father might to a disobedient child.

Once I turned the corner of the yoga room, I saw the entire gym staff raise their toned and bulky arms before shouting, “Feliz cumpleaños!” My eyes shifted to a small table they had set up, which was supporting a massive white cake. They sang me happy birthday, along with “Ya queremos pastel, ya queremos pastel, aunque sea un pedacito, ya queremos pastel” and then other variations that I had never heard of before. Not knowing what to do during the prolonged song, I clapped my hands and tried to sing along.

After the gym staff finished singing, Sabier told me to lean in and take a bite of the cake. His eyes were wide and he was practically on top of me as he waited for me to lower my head towards the cake so he could shove my face into it. Unable to deny him that pleasure, I lowered my head, took a bite of the soft coffee cake, and felt my entire face splash into the foamy white layer of icing. When I lifted my head, I rubbed the whiteness away from my eyes and cheeks and looked at Sabier, who was clutching at his stomach and heaving with laughter.

After a delicious piece of coffee-flavored cake, I thanked my gym cohorts and ran back to the Mansion so I could wash up. Mahchi’s guests had already arrived, including Oneyda de America, one of country’s most famous singers.

I had the pleasure of meeting Oneyda, who is like Mahchi but in female form, on a few previous occasions. Once I gave her a yoga class shortly after her apartment was robbed without knowing who she was. Upon finishing the class, she called me a “treasure” and declared that I would live to be 100 years old. On another occasion, we went to a Guillermo Anderson concert with two Spanish men who were volunteering at a local NGO and living at Ivonne’s mother’s house. We returned to the house after the concert so Oneyda could sing one of the men happy birthday, but the Spanish guys took their time in getting back. When they finally arrived, they brought plastic bags of Power Chicken with them, laid out their take-out for two, and started chowing down. From the couches in the living room area, Oneyda, Ivonne, and I watched the Spaniards eat while our unfed stomachs grumbled. Meanwhile, Oneyda mumbled things under her breath like: “Well I’m not hungry or anything!” or “I’m not making someone wait to sing happy birthday!” Passive aggressiveness turned into aggressive aggressiveness when Oneyda finally got up and stormed out of the house, leaving Ivonne and I to explain that we were waiting for the Spaniards to finish eating so we could share the cake and sing happy birthday.

Needless to say, I love Oneyda and was delighted that she decided to grace my party with her voice.

The party, when it was finally underway, was a completely improvised operation. Mahchi made each and every person present his or her life story, which took about an hour. Fortunately, my humus and vegetables were a quick hit, so much so that my vat went empty by the end of the presentations. My co-workers brought nachos and beans, Sabier brought his energy, and other friends brought their dance moves and voices over to the karaoke room. About two hours into the party, a group of Dutch girls I give yoga classes to barged in singing happy birthday in Dutch. They proceeded to dance wildly to karaoke and then an assortment of pop, Bachata, and Punta. Following a dance off, the stage was set for a local dancer who happened to be a master of Middle Eastern dance. He unbuttoned his shirt and stripped before a crowd that had absolutely no idea what to do with his form of artistic expression. The only person who was consistently clapping and cheering was Oneyda, whose widened eyes remained locked on the man’s undulating stomach and staccato hip hits.

The music started up again after the performance. Oneyda and I danced for a song, after which she asked me how old I was. When I told her to guess, she went with 28. People typically guess much younger, which frightened me into wondering if I had aged all at once by virtue of turning 27.

“It’s not how you look,” Oneyda said. “If I had to guess based off of that, I would have said 21. But it’s based on your experience…and how you talk to me.”

I took mental note of the answer. It was a good one to carry with me in case someone ever asked me to guess his or her age in the future.

“You of all people should know that the next forty days are going to be very special,” Oneyda said. “The forty days after your birthday are full of spiritual energy. Things will happen and things will come to you that you don’t expect, because you’ll be drawing all of the positivity towards you. These next forty days are magical, so take advantage of them.”

Really? I wondered. I took a few seconds to think back on my past birthdays, where I had been, and whether or not magic had ensued within forty days.

2006. I was in college and fell in love soon after turning 22. One could call that magic…albeit in the Disney sense of the word.

2007. I turned 23 in Macau after a trip to Hong Kong and within forty days was riding an elephant on Christmas day with my friend Ming in Indonesia. Undoubtedly magic.

2008. The Chilean magic that ensued as I turned 24 is probably best left censored…though it was even more magical than the Indonesian elephant. Within days of my birthday, I also ended up securing funding for a master’s degree in human rights in Ireland the following year.

2009. Friends Lauren and Jon Parnell-Marino baked me chocolate truffles just a few hours before I flew to Paris. I went there to visit Amanda Gutierrez, a former co-worker in Chile, who I forced to abandon her intense study regimen so she could attend the release party of Lady Gaga’s Fame Monster album in Paris’s biggest gay club. Meanwhile, I evaded a week of frigid, record-breaking rainfall in Ireland…magic, magic, and more magic!

2010. I was denied red wine on my 26th birthday in DC because I forgot my ID. Within 40 days, I gave a well-known politician a massage and received a job offer to work at OYE in Honduras…magic.

And 2011. I looked around at the crazy group of people I had managed to find during my time in El Progreso. Oneyda took it upon herself to sing a version of happy birthday that would have made Marilyn Monroe blush. My co-workers were spinning in circles to Bachata. Sabier was entertaining the Dutch girls. And Doctora Ivonne surprised us all with a homemade pastel tres leches (three milk cake). Like the givers of my other two cakes, she had forgotten to get candles, but I didn’t mind. Luckily there were two thick candles in glass holders nearby that would serve as last minute replacements. It turned out that they were perfect, as I had two wishes I wanted to make on this 27th year of life.

After blowing out the candles, I looked at the people who had somehow become a part of my large, strange, but surprisingly functional family. All around me people were enjoying themselves in a way they don’t get to all that often in a place where most people are constantly worried about their security. It was an environment of total light after dark where wrinkles, worries, and woes dissipated while we drew energy from an improvised event that was destined to be spontaneous, loud, unapologetic, and…magical.

“I’ve never had so much at fun birthday party,” Oneyda told me later. “And I’ve been to a lot of them.”

“Gracias Oneyda,” I said. “I’ll remember this one for the rest of my life.”

“Twenty-seven…” Oneyda said, shaking her head. “You’re so young, Michael. And you’re life is going to be a fucking blast from now until 47…just you see!”

“But watch out after 47,” she added. “Let me tell you…it all goes to shit after that…no matter who you are!”

The older partygoers laughed in response to Oneyda’s observation and nodded in what seemed like tacit agreement.

A concerned man with light skin and glasses who I had never met before that night raised his hand and spoke.

“But I’m 47,” he said, his voice a scratch.

Oneyda let out a loud cackle and swatted her ring-studded hand out in front of the man’s face.

“Oh don’t worry honey…you don’t look a day over 35.”


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§ 2 Responses to Oneyda’s Forty Days of Magic

  • g mahchi says:

    A wonderfull tale…of the Magic of the NIGTH…..MICKEY BOY’S B D….was memorable……he forgot to mention the presence of POET LAURATE…JUAN RAMON SARAVIA,…y su asistent RACHEL….GEORGE MARCUS the honduran actor that has been struggling to get to HOLYWOOD from NYC, the america girl who is a direct descendent of GEORGE WASHINGTON haveing a FLING with our SABIER…..the DISC JOCKEY….ELIO and his RANCHERAS….and the usual for our click ” MAGIC LIFE IN EL PROGRESO” as if it was ZANZIBAR or TIMBOCKTOU…all to MICHAEL ‘s feet….for someone that we all love dearly.


  • Gracias Mahchi…thanks for remembering all of the crazy details that I left out…

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