1.17.2009

Joline in search of a future

Joline is one of Roatan's most beautiful and most contradictory young women.

We met her more than a year ago; she and her family are neighbors in the native village of Hottest Sparrow perched over the sea.

She worked for us briefly, as an evening nanny. She was awestruck by our home. She had never seen a dishwasher before and thought we used it to bake cakes. She had never seen so many lights or ceiling fans; her village has two light poles in the center that serve all the residents. She had never seen such blond hair as Hayden's.

Despite her naiveity, she is somehow endowed with meticulous taste and conspicuously good manners. She dresses like she's going to a party, all the time. Full skirts and ruffly blouses, sequins on her shoes. Apparently her mother makes her living by peddling used clothing up and down the north shore. I can imagine that Joline gets first pick of new inventory.

Once we asked Joline to babysit while we attended a fundraiser. Mike joked that he was going to have to wear a suit and didn't know where he'd find a tie. The next day Joline arrived at our home with a plastic grocery bag filled with ties from her mother's "shop." She'd been horrified to think of Mike not being appropriately outfitted for his big night out.

(Little did she realize that Mike never wanted to see a tie again after leaving his desk job and that was the whole point of being in the Caribbean.)

Sort of embarrassed, we asked Joline how much we owed her. Nothing, this was her gift to Mr. Mike. A bag of used ties from the 1960s and 70s, the kind we've cleaned out of our closets dozens of times for the Good Will, fat and skinny and stained, now right back in our closets a whole world away.

That night while she was babysitting the power went out, as it often does, and our generator failed to kick in. Joline was plunged into darkness, in this big unfamiliar house with two infants. I think she must have been terrified. Shortly after that she stopped coming to work.

We see Joline often walking, with elegance and supreme pride, down Mud Hole Road, all dressed up. It's a twenty minute drive by car, two or three miles of dust and dirt and rocky hills. It must take hours on foot. Sometimes in the pouring rain. But if you are Joline, it's worth it. She craves the hustle and bustle of Coxen Hole and the West End. She once told me how insulted she feels when a car passes by and doesn't stop to give her a lift. I don't blame her.

Once when I gave her a ride down Mud Hole and as far down the main road as the babies' school, she then turned and asked me for money for the cab ride the rest of the way to wherever she was going. (She has learned that you don't get what you don't ask for.) It was only 15 lempiras, less than a dollar. Hard to fathom that kind of need.

Unlike many village children, Joline has managed to attend school and has even been employed as a teacher. One classroom job was in West End, a three-hour commute each way on foot and with hitched rides. But that ended.

She's looking for "Mr. Right" but has no inclination to settle back down in Hottest Sparrow, like her sister Jerline did. Still, she is saddled with lots of responsibility for younger siblings and assorted others. The expression "it takes a village" comes alive when you pull into Hottest Sparrow.

A few weeks ago Joline appeared in our yard with two of her brothers. She asked Mike if they could pick the coconuts that we weren't using. Sure, he said, help yourself. I asked her if she needed a bag to put them in and she said no, they had brought a bag.

We forgot all about them until three hours later when they re-appeared, making trip after trip to drag an enormous quantity of coconuts up from the ravine. At least a hundred, maybe two, enough to fill our truck. We were astonished.

"Mr. Mike, could you drive us and the coconuts home?" they asked, standing tall in front of a coconut mountain. Of course that had been their intention from the beginning.

Our friend Brinck did the honors and learned that their mother was going to make coconut oil. An enormous effort, for a little bit of oil.

Joline dreams of traveling and seeing the world. At first she was going to continue her education on the Honduran mainland. But she said school administrators botched her paperwork and the idea was abandoned.

At one point she was off to Canada to be an au pair. All she was waiting for was the call from the agency that she had found in a magazine.

She walked the miles back and forth to sit by an international phone.

As far as I know the call never came.

Now she tells me she's going to New York to live with family.

I tell her that's wonderful.

And then I say I'll see you soon.