10.17.2008

Stop the Carnival, Please!

This has been a week of storms, unrest, and dog bites. It’s fitting that our internet is only now up and running again on the eve of our visit back to Hartford, one year after saying goodbye.

Here’s how it started. Last rainy Tuesday morning Mike offered to take the babies to school and give me a break. I had been up and down all night long with crying kiddos, and welcomed the idea of just going back to bed. Thirty minutes after they had left, though, they returned. The main road, at the end of the Mud Hole/Dump Road, was blocked by protesters and police. Cars from Palmetto and points in between were turning around. This was the start of a massive island-wide demonstration against RECO, the Roatan electric company recently rescued from ridiculousness (i.e., it couldn’t generate power) by a Texan billionaire.

RECO had doubled its rates this month. Bills went up 100%, and more, in the form of a fuel surcharge. This was apparently necessary to stop the hemorrhaging of a third-world island’s haphazard utility. But for islanders earning $25 to $50 a week, the jump from $25 to more than $50 a month to run a small fridge and maybe a single ceiling fan in their homes was simply too much.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time comparing this to our state of affairs, because there is no comparison. But for some perspective: we have 32 ceiling fans in our two houses, three refrigerators, and eight air conditioners. Our utility bill under this new formula is a nightmare, too. But our capacity to cope with this is different. Not so unlike what has been happening in the United States as its economy has fallen apart. When there is little or no capacity to cope, there are protests, and violence.

For the next two days we felt like we were under house arrest. That wasn’t really the case, because our remote location was nowhere near the main roads of protest and we were perfectly safe. But we couldn’t go anywhere, either. School was cancelled, island-wide and at Discovery Bay. Businesses were closed because employees couldn’t get to work. Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Lines both refused to dock in Coxen Hole, citing political unrest and costing the island hundreds of thousands of dollars in crucial revenue. The U.S. Embassy issued a warning to all its citizens residing in the Bay Islands.

We couldn’t go to the market, or to the bank, two things that needed to happen. We were aware, through the residents’ yahoo chat group, that gringos were being targeted for assault if they tried to cross the lines. We were aware that trees were being chopped down to block the roads. The Honduran army was flown in from the mainland to try to keep the peace.

We stayed at home, feeling our patience tested one hour at a time. The rain poured, lightening rocked and thunder roared for two days. It was like a bad movie. The babies were oh, so restless and so were we. Thank goodness for my mother’s playdough recipe.

By the end of the second day, our neighbor Heather decided we should have a pot luck supper with whatever we had in our pantries. Her two boys were also stir crazy. Our dinner became chicken and rice and pasta, actually pretty yummy considering the circumstances. We invited another neighbor, Dr. Mike to join us for supper as long as he had few expectations.

But come dinnertime, Heather’s hubby Clay and her dad, Bob, were stuck on the other side of the protest lines in French Harbor. They couldn’t get past the road block to the Palmetto Road. The two Mikes set out in the dark and rain to rescue them, with flashlights and four-wheel drive, going over the ruts in the ridge road in pitch darkness. They parked on the hill overlooking the protesters. Clay and Bob hiked up to meet them.

They reached home muddy but safe, in time to see all four kids racing around the house with hysterical shrieks of laughter. Heather and I were opening our second bottle of wine.

We spent another full day at home, no school, and then returned this morning. There was an eerie calm on the island. A cruise ship was docked, good news. I made it to the market and the gas station. Delaney and Hayden spent the morning overjoyed to be back at school, hardly realizing I had left to do errands.

We returned home happy to feel some sense of normalcy, only to stumble into today’s crisis. A neighbor’s attack dog had taken a big bite out of Mike’s right thigh while he was walking the grounds. Thankfully this happened now, rather than two days ago when the roads were impassable and the clinic was closed. The doctors gave him pain meds but no stitches because of risk of infection.

One step forward, ten steps back. Even in paradise. Off we go to Hartford.