Raul and Marta wanted Wal-Mart.
Coastal North Carolina
May 5, 2015
This morning, I awoke on a remote beach on a deserted island with a sweet lover-friend of mine. We had traveled 400 miles to reach one of the last remaining “wilderness islands” on the east coast of the United States.
There were no services there. We brought everything with us—food, water, shelter—and hauled it in on our backs from the place where a boat left us on an empty beach.
We broke camp shortly after dawn today, and as we walked the miles of empty beach in the direction of “home,” I was flooded with an old memory...a memory of my friend Raul, who once walked beside me for hours along a deserted beach at dawn, because he didn't want me to have to walk alone...
It was Honduras, 1999, just after a major hurricane had devastated the country. I had felt called there at that time for many reasons. I felt called to help people, and...I wanted desperately to get away from the world we had come to call "normal".
I literally wandered from village to coastal village, inhabited predominantly by the Garifuna--descendants of an African tribe. I wound up helping a young man named Raul and his family re-build their thatched-roof home. He lived with his wife and kids in a small "village of outcasts”...ostracized, as far as I could tell, from the main village because they were mulatto--a mixture of Latino and African.
There were no roads there...only trails...and open ocean was actually the main "highway" to get anywhere. But when it came time for me to leave, there were no boats going out that day, and so...my friend Raul rose with me at dawn, and...he walked with me.
We walked, side by side, for 3 hours, to the tiny town of Travesia, where a bus would take me to San Pedro Sula. For him, it was 6 hours--3 hours with me, then 3 hours back, alone, to the “village outside of the village,” which he called home.
To this day, whenever I walk far, with a friend beside me, I always remember Raul…
Raul was a man who had desperately tried to escape the place he called “home”. Twice, he and his wife had attempted to cross the border to Another Life. She told me, “I saw the lights of New York one time…before they caught me.” She had forged her own immigration papers and caught a one-way flight out of Honduras, only to be detained at JFK for 2 days, and sent back to Honduras with nothing other than the clothes on her back. Raul and his friends had successfully driven a pickup truck across Guatemala, bound for Texas, but the Mexican border guards turned them back. They never even got out of Guatemala.
They wanted a “better life”. And yet…I had walked, 50 miles— on foot, sometimes negotiating rides with natives on canoes across inlets—to find my new friends there, isolated from the very life which I was fleeing. I wanted to find a “better life”—one where life could possibly be simple again…a life where “making a living” meant casting a net into the ocean at sunrise, and hiking a few miles to harvest yuca roots to feed myself and my loved ones.
I wanted a better life. Raul and Marta wanted a better life. Whose life was better? Who got it? Who won the game?
It’s now 16 years later. I never communicated with Raul and Marta again because there was no post office where they lived. No post office. No roads. No telephone lines. No cell towers. No… “services”. By now, they may have successfully “escaped”, and that might very well have been the best thing they could do. Their life of subsistence might have seemed attractive to me, but the fact is, they lived within the borders of a country where mass killing has become all-too-common in the past 10 years, and where a once-peaceful existence could now be subject to the whims of drug lords. I don’t know what’s become of my friends, who mainly live still in my memory. If anyone has any news from the villages of Rio Tinto and Listero, Honduras, then I’m ready to hear it (I think).
As for me, I’m very happy to say that I made it out, too, in a different way! I made it OUT of a corporate job, buying my clothes at the mall, and commuting hours each way to pay for the gas I had to put in my car to get to work. The grief, sadness, and insanity of my life literally became my fuel to jettison me into a new reality.
Raul and Marta wanted Wal-Mart. As for me, I wanted Wal-Mart to burn in hell while I found a way to “earn my living” by collecting wild roots and casting nets. My ideal hasn’t been realized. I still live in a cash economy and live in a city. My “net” is the Internet, where I “work hard” to create a web of reality which can attract what I want and need, with ease, while holding out a net to catch other people are ready to take that “big leap” that I took 17 years ago--or who are at least ready to take some kind of a leap, back out of their comfort zone, and into the unknown! I’ve still not found a way to live in this world and make the offerings I’m here to make, while still being able to walk out of my house in the morning and collect wild roots. I love my friends. I love living close to them. And…sometimes, it seems that what we’re collectively creating in the world requires us to be immersed in that “urban jungle”. We have to live in the middle of it, it seems...and yet somehow, someway, by some miracle, maybe we can find a way to bring the forest to the people, while all of us get fed, fully.
Amen, and Blessed Be.
Asheville, NC, USA.
6 May 2015