This name probably means little to you. I didn’t know his full name until yesterday. I simply knew him as Don Miguel, as did the majority of the residents living on our street in Miraflores. I didn’t know him that well or for that long. To hear he had been killed brought shock. But there was also a huge underlying feeling of guilt, and that I will go in to later. His wife (I didn’t know he had a wife before yesterday, either) says he was murdered. Apparently someone wanted his mobile phone and they killed him for it. I don’t know the full facts, but it happens a lot here. Death over a phone.
I liked the man, despite not knowing that well, and I feel compelled to write some kind of obituary (we know the newspapers won’t) using the bits and pieces of information and memories I have.
I’d known him for just over a year. My first impression of him wasn’t fantastic, I must be honest. It was before we moved into our house in Miraflores and Pamela and I were checking to see how the building work was coming along one sunny Sunday afternoon, like most Sunday’s here. While in the car, we saw a short’ish but physical man, very dark skinned, sporting a red cap and a fading Barcelona shirt, tearing up the road with a machete in hand. He looked rather grubby and sweaty and had no doubt been working on something. Another guy was trailing, taller than Don Miguel.
“This must be Don Miguel,” said Pamela.
“Who’s Don Miguel?” I replied.
And the said Don Miguel launched into a monologue how he was the security on the street and the charge was 1200 Lempiras a month, which works out at about £40 or just over $50. You see, most middle class neighbourhoods in the cities have private security rhese days. It’s actually peculiar to see a neighbourhood without it, and residents might be considered foolish and/or naïve for not doing so. Me? I’ve mixed feelings about it. I feel obviously safer for having security, but it’s a shame it’s come to this. A neighbourhood without security could well get targeted by wrong-do’ers. I remember interviewing a young man for this blog a few years ago. Wilsen, I think his name was. I remember how he told me how these security firms pay minimum wage (about £250 per month – not a realistic amount of money to live on a month in Honduras, before you think “well it’s all relative”) and they work 24 hours on, 24 hours off, with seven days of holiday per annum, and they often derive from very poor and dangerous neighbourhoods. Neighbours on the whole are pleasant to the guards (Pamela and I give them a plate of food from time to time), although some neighbours are not always nice, and these guys are there to be shot at for those people to live peacefully. An example of modern day slavery to many. In layman’s terms, their existence is to make the upper classes feel more secure, and they get peanuts for doing it.
Back to the monologue. We thought the 1200 Lempiras was a little steep, funnily enough. Usually each house pays about 1000 Lempiras or less, and the security are protected with proper gates, guns and bullet proof jackets. Don Miguel had a machete and a levered pole going across the street, nor were all the entrances/exits to the neighbourhood properly guarded, and his colleagues looked on the wrong side of 60. Against a gang, we didn’t think they would fare very well. But we didn’t refuse, understanding their financial situation. It was just a lot more than we budgeted for (in Residencial Maya we paid 200 Lempiras a month). Furthermore, Don Miguel wasn’t really skilled or trained in security. His business wasn’t formal and he kind of adopted the street as his own to secure a few years ago, as he used some of the empty land to grow crops before more and more houses popped up.
He seemed pleasant when we got to know him. He would often inform us that he felt we were being cheated by the engineer who was constructing our house, saying that the workers barely came and the engineer was being rude. The engineer was also complaining about Don Miguel for being overbearing, but over time, we could see Don Miguel was in the right. At one point, we learned that some neighbours were pilfering water from our tank (water is a expensive commodity in a country where the sun shines bright for 99% days of the year) using a hose. Whereas the engineer paid no attention and let the thieves get away with it, Don Miguel wasn’t having any of it, pretty much cutting the hose in two with his machete (Don Miguel, as you can imagine, wasn’t appreciated by all neighbours).
A few months later, I had a face-off with this crooked engineer who was determined to make the project drag out longer, which burned a hole in our pocket. His punctuality was laughable even in a country where the mañana mañana spirit is very much live and kicking. While I hurled true accusations at this engineer, Don Miguel stood beside with his machete ready. Now, I don’t condone violence and I regret getting so angry over the eejit engineer, but I did appreciate Don Miguel having my back, and I told him so too. I didn’t want the engineer cut in two, mind. But the engineer knew he was on the losing side and he was never to return.
Don Miguel did handy work too, like cutting the overgrown grass next door and in the back garden. Snakes and scorpions slithered and esconded in the area, and I suppose he put his life on the line for us in more ways than one. He would also ensure no one parked over other people’s driveways (as some of our neighbours liked to do), as well as stalked behind the street-sellers who came up houses selling water, tortillas or nacatamales so they didn’t try to pinch stuff.
Unfortunately, around September time there were some burglaries to a couple of houses. It wasn’t so much Don Miguel’s fault, as the houses weren’t guarded with tall enough walls around the back, which lies open to open land, but his lack of reaction was probably not enough to warrant 1200 Lempiras a month. In the coming months, the street grouped together and decided to get an official security firm to guard the street. Pamela and I felt torn. Don Miguel was being pushed out of his livelihood, but then the new firm was cheaper and more secure.
One day he was gone. He had the chance to work for the new security firm but he chose not to. I never had a chance to say goodbye, or thank you. I got on well with him and often made fun out of him if Barcelona lost (I pretended to support Real Madrid. In reality, I think Real Madrid is just another of the many evils of what is supposed to be the beautiful game and I would prefer to see FC Xativa win the Spanish double than see either of the so-called clasico teams monopolise the Spanish FA, but I’ll save that for another blog post). I never did it. I never said adios.
I won’t deny it. I have a heavy heart and I feel guilty. I did when he first left, just like that, over night. To hear he had been killed is deflating. Very deflating. Pamela and I could have attended those meetings and defended him, but made excuses not to, knowing that Don Miguel would probably be fired from his job which he’d made his own for I don’t know how long. Now he is gone. No reverse button to press.
President Juan Orlando Hernandez likes to make out that security has improved in the last four years, but when you have people willing to kill over a mobile phone, JOH is very much mistaken, or like most politicians, a liar.
Apparently the incident happened in Don Miguel’s neighbourhood called Guazalona in Comayagüela (very dangerous, I’m told). I don’t think the last few months would have been easy. I’ll miss his cheery persona, his smile which was full of capped teeth. Whatever holds for us after we die, I hope he’s in a happy place.
RIP Don Miguel.