It took her three buses and less than a month to reach the US border from Honduras. Once there, she had no choice but to stay in a border town and save money; the coyotes were charging something like $3,000 for the smuggling. She settled in with a local family and watched their kids in exchange for a small stipend. She waited seven months on the border until finally the time came.
A man gave her and a group of five directions. He walked them to the edge of the desert before explaining the rest. He waved his hand over the mountains as he spoke. They set off. For four days and three nights they wandered North through the mountains and followed the shotty instructions. By the time they crawled out the other side they were without water and desperately hungry. She didn’t know how she’d made it that long without eating.
They arrived at the meeting point and within an hour saw a truck speeding along the dusty road towards them. The truck stopped and two coyotes emerged. They ushered the group into the hidden trunk and closed it tightly around them. They couldn’t see but they celebrated together in the darkness: they had made it – they were over the border.
Suddenly, there were sounds of more cars. The tires screeched to a halt on the rocks and the doors flung open. Two border patrol officers in green suits stared down at them. The game was up. They were stuffed into two SUVs and shuttled sixty minutes North East to Huston, and by the end of the day they were back in San Pedro Sula airport, Honduras.
At this point she laughed and joked that it took her all of 2014 to get there and less than two hours to get back.
Everyone has a story about the US. Every taxi I get in starts with “Oh you’re American? I lived in [insert city here] for [exorbitant amount of time]” Three years, eight years, twelve years even. Maids, pickers, bakers, lawn mowers, carpenters, carpet cleaners, wet workers, dry cleaners, babysitters, crane operators, and salesman.
One man got as far as San Luis Potosi Mexico and was caught. A good friend of mine told me about crossing the rafts at the Guatemala border. Another complemented Texas on having tons of different ethnic foods. Another told me about getting robbed on bourbon street in New Orleans. According to another, everyone in Ohio is a racist. Why would they hate immigrants? The stories went on:
The bad apple in town returned after journeying North on foot. I don’t know his story – I don’t want to; he gives me chills whenever I’m forced to acknowledge him or shake his hand. Every stolen motorcycle or robbery has his signature on it. Every guy whacked with a machete knew him. As far I’m aware, he made it to the US and stayed there a while until getting deported.
Another man, who sits with sporadic tattoos on his arm and an eager set of fake teeth, grins every time he talks about his time in North Carolina driving dump trucks for seven years. Now he sits on the corner and smokes dope, waxing about his return trip and drinking from a brown bottle. He hasn’t seen his girlfriend (a client) since he beat her last fall.
A gangly man at the dock talked about his time selling crack and PCP in Brooklyn. He said it was the coolest thing, man, and every time he was done dishing the product, he’d play basketball with his crew. He went to Seattle once. He had family there. They didn’t grab him until a few years later when they sent him to Belize.
Sometimes the stories excite and sometimes they scare. I consider myself lucky I don’t have any first hand accounts of those fleeing from gangs. I live in Progreso where the police and the military control the streets – for the most part. The taxis are still taxed and most of the bus services don’t make it if they don’t pay. Progreso is somewhat peaceful. Not like San Jorge or San Pedro. Not like Chamalecon where the mara arrived, told everyone they had 24 hours to vacate the town, and killed those who remained. Chamalecon is a ghost town now.
Stories usually manifest themselves in one telling that hit you in the heart; that you remember exactly where you were when you heard them.
Sitting on a bus North to Guatemala was a man in a baseball cap, grey sweater, and thin beard. His English was perfect. He’d been living outside of Progreso for four months with his long lost aunt and uncle. He had a story:
He arrived in Baltimore illegally as a teenager. He lived and worked in the city for fourteen years until he met his wife. She was white and they lived happily while he made a living at a mechanic shop. They had two kids and settled into an apartment complex. His kids were adorable in the photos – three and seven years old.
He kept a gun on him because of the neighborhood he lived in. When the police pulled him over and found it in the car, they sent him to jail. When they found he had no green card, they sent him to prison. He spent eight months there until he took up a remedial program that would let him off early if he learned to read and write better. He spent four months in the program. When he got out of jail, they deported him to Honduras, where he found his long lost aunt and uncle.
I walked across the Guatemala border with him on foot. After I got my passport stamped and he showed them his Honduran ID, we made our way into Guatemala. He told me all about those who went for miles to avoid this checkpoint. He waved his hand over the mountains as he spoke. His arm was wrapped in a cast; the gangs had found him at his uncles’. They threatened him until he left.
We got on a minibus and headed further North. I was going to Belize and he was hoping to cross the Mexican border by nightfall. As we rounded a bend in the road, we saw a fork with a sign for Rio Dulce. He tapped the driver on the shoulder. The minibus slowed and the sliding door opened. I shook his good hand goodbye and waved.
That was the last part of his story I was privy to:
His back turned to me, hat brim pointed towards the Northern road, headed for the river; a man desperately seeking his wife and children and fleeing the violence at home. He looked both ways and crossed, while the bus pulled away, the image vanished, and we went on with our lives.