In the coming updates, I am going to be changing the format of the blog. I want to give you a more transparent, rounded view of Honduras, using the voices of Hondurans from as many different backgrounds I can think of, straight from mouth to page (with my translation in between). It might be a teacher, a banker, a nurse, someone from the street, a construction worker, you get my drift. I might cheat and interview friends, or I might pick people who I know have interesting stories. We start with Wilson.
From: Victoria, Yoro
Currently lives: Villa Nueva, Tegucigalpa
Profession: Security guard of Block G, Las Colinas
Wilson is our friendly security guard in Las Colinas, always wearing a great smile and encouraging me to come out with the Honduras street vocabulary that I learned at Casa Alianza. As you will see from the interview, he works long hours and gets little pay, so I sometimes give him the odd cigarette or save him a plate of food. We often talk about football, we joke about his bald head and cap, he asks after Pamela, and enjoys learning about the UK. He calls me chele and I call him Palacios. He was calm and seemed happy to be interviewed, not needing much prompting, though obviously he had to keep opening the gates of the street for cars and people to come and go, so the interview was intermittently interrupted. He is always humble and very helpful, especially when negotiating with parking spaces. As my housemate Martin says, it’s so nice to have someone smile and be so well-natured, even though they are doing a job which you and I would find extremely boring. He has a squeaky laugh and straightforward personality, and likes to ask me how many beers I drank the night before. This is Wilson.
What’s your full name and where are you from?
My name is Wilson Javier Zelaya and I am from Victoria in Yoro.
The same surname as the former President! Are you related to him?
Hahaha. Si, ‘ombre! We have the same surname, but we’re not related.
What’s Victoria like?
Hot, and poor, in northern Honduras. There is not much to do, just working in agriculture, on farms and not earning much. I left the when I was 15, and joined the army. I was with them for two years.
Did you enjoy the army?
Yeah, I enjoyed it. I got to see a lot, and it could be hard work, as well as waiting around. I was with the army for two years, but I had other ambitions. My friend was going to the USA, so I went with him.
Where did you go in the USA and how long were you there?
I went to San Antonio, and I was there for two years. I worked in construction. But before that, I lived in Mexico for two years, too, working in Monterrey, working in farms, taking care of cows, making a bit of money so I could enter the USA.
What did you think of Mexico?
I loved it. I should have stayed. Some people here don’t like Mexicans, but I do. It’s only in football when I don’t like Mexico. You see, Honduras and Mexico (he thumps the outside of his clenched hands to suggest they clash). They treated me very well and it’s a beautiful country. Don’t believe what they say if they talk bad about Mexico. It’s nice.
Tell me how you travelled through Guatemala and Mexico.
We walked and caught buses through Guatemala and then we caught the train at the Mexico and Guatemala border.
El tren de muerte (the train of death)?
Yeah, but I didn’t think it was that bad. Hahaha. I heard bad things about gangs, Maras, people falling off, being killed, and starvation, but I met many good people on the way. And it was amazing being on top of the train, taking in the air, seeing everything go past so fast. Everyone was on the same journey, so people kind of looked after each other.
You obviously stopped in Monterrey and various places for a couple of years. You then had to cross the border into the USA. How did you do it?
I paid a coyete, a smuggler. You have to be careful. Some of the smugglers are informers in the police, others are gangs, belonging to Los Zetas.
Did you see anything bad happen?
Not me, but I did hear of women being raped and people dying in the desert, or in the river at the border. My friend was kidnapped by Los Zetas. I also heard of scams, where coyetes just take the money and leave you once you are in the USA.
Did he escape?
He paid the ransom. He survived it, yes.
Tell me about your time in USA.
I liked it, but mainly for the money. I sent it back to my mother and brothers, because they needed it. You can make three times as much more money per hour, or sometimes in a day, just on construction sites. I found it very hard learning English, as I was also surrounded by Latinos, who always spoke Spanish. Americans don’t like Latinos. Some of them treated me badly, others treated me okay. There was a lot of insecurity, moving around in case the police found you.
And did they find you?
Yes. I was kept at a deportation centre for 21 days and then brought back to Honduras. It was a long 21 days. I was looking forward to coming home, though I felt bad that my mother needed the money, and she could no longer rely on me. After that, I came to Tegucigalpa.
Do you want to go back to the USA?
Nah, ‘ombre! (He laughs). Maybe, but I don’t think I will.
How did you become a security guard?
I became a security guard three years ago. I wanted to work in a factory, but there’s no work. I worked in a few places, but I laid off quickly or just had short-term contracts. It seemed natural for me to become a security guard. I learned how to protect people in the army.
How long have you been a security guard?
Three years, but not just here; in many places.
How does Las Colinas compare to other places you have worked?
It’s nice and easy. I like it and the people are nice. I have worked in far worse places. I worked at the newspaper El Heraldo, where you have to be on constant alert. In other places, I have seen comrades die, good friends too, who have been killed in this job. One time, there was a robbery, and two friends got gunned down at the same time. I saw it with my own eyes. It took me some time to recover from seeing that. I’m still sad when I think about it.
How does it feel to put your life on the line like that?
It’s a job. What else can I do? There are no other jobs. I’m not qualified to do much else.
You work a very gruelling schedule. Can you explain it to me?
Yes, I work 24 hours on, 24 hours off. I start and finish at 6am.
That would kill me.
Hahahaha. Yeah, it can kill me sometimes.
What part of the day is the hardest?
Between 4-5pm, when everyone comes home from work. You are constantly busy opening the door, and that leaves you tired. There are always the cleaners around, people sit out and talk to me, like you guys, and people are friendly.
What about at night? You must get sleepy.
I have the radio. It’s not too bad. It’s worse if it’s raining or if it’s too hot.
You must get some complete pendejos (arseholes) who speak to you like crap every now and again.
HAHAHAHAHA. Of course. I don’t really care, though. I do the job and forget about it. The majority of people are nice and friendly. I have worked in places where many of the people are pendejos!
What do you do on your day off?
Sleep for a couple of hours in the day, and then I sleep all night. I see friends and speak to family, do the things I have to do, and then I sleep all night.
Do you have any past-times?
Television, football, I listen to the radio.
Is it mentally draining, working 24 hours, knowing in another 24 hours that you have to return?
I don’t follow.
Is the job schedule difficult mentally?
Yes, but like I said, what else can I do? I don’t have much option.
You have to excuse my ignorance. In the UK, I have never heard to such a hard schedule, working all those hours. I would feel trapped being in that situation. Also because we are used to having a benefit system so if you really don’t want the job, you can leave it and try to find another, or in some cases change a career. Without wanting to sound rude, do you feel trapped?
Not really. I need money to survive.
But don’t you feel trapped about not having any other options? I’m sure you would –
Like what? I can’t afford to go to university. I’m happy doing this. I’m okay.
This is a personal question and you do not need to answer it if you don’t want to, but how much are you paid?
5, 800 Lempiras a month (roughly £187 or $290)
Do you have a family?
Yes, my mother and brothers and sisters. But I don’t have a girlfriend or family, no.
Do you send any of that money to your family in Yoro?
What’s Villa Nueva like?
It’s on the edge of Tegucigalpa, on the road to Danli. It’s dangerous. There are many Maras, gangs, murderers, thieves. I was robbed four times just last year, threatened with pistols and knives. It’s very poor. The steps are all broken. Sometimes it’s just mud and you have to climb it to reach your home. There good people there, too. Innocent people, working people. They struggle to survive.
Are you scared to walk around?
Do you have to pay impuesto de guerra (gang extortion)?
Yes, 100 Lempiras a week. Puperias have to pay a lot more.
Have you ever not paid it?
How do you feel about the situation the country is in?
It’s difficult. There’s no easy answer. It’s a bad situation, but there are good things about my country. I do like it. But it’s very difficult for the poor. I wish that our politicians did not steal so much. There are problems with narco-trafficking, violence and gangs, but if there wasn’t so much corruption, some of those things might not be as bad as they are.
Do you follow politics?
A little bit. Not much. I liked Mel Zelaya. He cared about us poor. But they didn’t like him, so they got rid of him.
When you were younger, did you have a dream?
Yes, to be a primary school teacher.
Do you think you still could? There is a university which does teacher training on the other side of Plaza Miraflores.
Yeah, but I can’t afford it.
Do you have a dream now?
Thank you for the interview. You are very generous to tell me so much.
Just to let you all know, I gave Wilson a six-pack of beer, a packet of cigarettes and two mangos. I think he devoured them all with gusto!