Flagging Friends

I stood on the side of the road with a bag of chicken. The moon had risen into the sky and the cars came with headlights blazing.DSC_9610_edited-1

I had just finished eating at the Carcamo’s, a family who had worked with La Ceiba for years. It was the grandmother, Donia Sonia, who started inviting me over to chat while they set up their chicken stand every Sunday night.

I loved going, because we always touched on financials, but never dwelled on them. They occupied themselves with work and were happy to have me around, usually sitting quietly and watching people walk by. Sometimes I felt like the old man on the porch during the dust bowl, except instead of lemonade I had a Pepsi and instead of a shotgun I had a banana.

Tonight I had stayed a little too long. A dozen buses passed me by on the way into town. They all seemed in too much of a hurry, or on a direct route, to pick up a single gringo.

People told me this area got a little sketchier at night. As the last of the sunlight faded and I found myself stranded without a ride, I looked left – right – and back where I came, then gulped. Yep, I thought to myself, definitely a little sketchier.

Suddenly, a woman approached me from behind. It was Wendy Waleska, one of the Carcamo sisters. She told me she had come to wait with me. I asked her if she still had a lot of work to do and she agreed, but it would be better to wait together so I wasn’t alone.

A few more buses passed by without a care. Then, Sonia and Aminta appeared.

“Jeff,” they said, “what are you still doing here? You should have gone before the sun went down.”

I sheepishly tried to explain I had tried. At this time of night, only one or two more buses would pass, if not a stray taxi from Brisas. One of them offered to walk me down to Villa, another to call a local taxi for me. Aminta, literally holding knitting needles and half finished cozy, told me to think about catching an earlier bus next time.

Finally, another bus appeared and when it drew closer, all three women and I stepped onto the road and started flagging our hands vigorously in front of it. The bus almost appeared to groan, as if being nagged, and saddled over to the shoulder. I just had time to squeeze Wendy’s hand, yell ‘thank you’ to all of them, and jump onboard.

We may work in Microfinance, but in this way, microfinance works for us. They had a reason to know me and to talk to me, because the organization I represent offers them loans, but any courtesies would have been unnecessary once I stepped outside their gates. This did not have to do with buttering up a gringo, although they might have taken some pity on me as the foreigner. They were just being kind to a friend – loan or no loan, Honduran or no Honduran.

I remember standing there, watching their silhouettes in front of the yellow headlights, and realizing I could recite each individual loan amount they had last. I could tell you how well their repayment was and I could tell you an estimate of their weekly income, but I couldn’t tell you how much it meant to me that they cared.

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