Living in Honduras or Guatemala as a foreigner is sometimes hard, mostly fun and never boring. This Blog is about more than just the oddities of my years in the not-so tranquil, cobble-stoned town of Copán Ruinas and, more recently, Antigua Guatemala. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ronny Be Good



Ronny was standing out even when he was little. I remember him all too well as a first grader when I visited his school in the small community of la Laguna, about fourteen years ago.
I was reading a story as an ice breaker because the kids were, as usually in Maya Chortí villages, very shy. But not Ronny. He wasn’t even interested in the story, and asked if he could go to the bathroom.
On his way back to the classroom, he was singing on top of his lungs, completely oblivious to the fact that we could all hear him through the open screens. He was so loud that I interrupted the story to wait for Ronny to come back. It wasn’t until he walked into the classroom that he realized he was the centre of attention. He flashed a dazzling smile, shrugged his shoulders and sat down.

A year later I continued conducting art workshops in La Laguna and was disappointed to find out that Ronny hadn’t passed on to second grade. Well, his teacher said, he’s a bright kid. He just doesn’t do any schoolwork. Ever!

One year after that, Ronny was still in grade 1. And that was pretty much the end of his academic career.

Throughout the years I’d see Ronny in town every once in a while, or galloping by on his horse, always with this huge grin on his face. He reminded me of Pippi Longstocking, Peter Pan and other unconventional childhood heroes.

We met again when Ronny was around fifteen years old, at the re-opening ceremony of the Cabañas Fort in Copán. As usual, I was on time, and so was Ronny, plus a few other people from the surrounding villages. While we were waiting for the ceremony to start, one of the girls assisting at the event was handing out tickets for lunch to every single person she encountered. I very much doubted that she was meant to do that, since lunch was going to be an exclusive affair at a fancy hotel. So I asked her, but she said she was to invite everybody. Okay then… (Then her boss showed up and all hell broke loose.)
Anyway, while waiting for things to get started and things to get over with, it occurred to me that Ronny might be a good candidate for the assistant position we had open at the time. We needed a kid who could run errands and do some odd jobs here and there. No diplomas required, just an eagerness to learn, a good vibe and a sense of humour. Ronny would be perfect!

So I called him over, made the proposal and a spark in his eyes and big grin were the answer. I asked to talk to his mom, who was present too, and she was also happy for Ronny to have a real job.
“So I’ll see you tomorrow at our office at 8.00am!” I said.
“I’ll be there at 7.00!” Ronny excitedly replied.
“No,” I said, “8.00! We start at 8.00!”
But Ronny had already run off.

The ceremony dragged on. It was way passed lunchtime, according to my stomach, and the event was far from over. When finally the last words were spoken, we were out of the Fort and into a moto-taxi in no-time, on our way to the hotel for that fancy –although belated-lunch.
It had been a mistake to think that getting there early would mean that we would be able to eat soon, since it was not a buffet in the restaurant, but a gorgeous set-up at the lawn of the hotel where we would be catered to as soon as all guests had arrived. So we sat down at one of the tables, enviously eying the centrepiece decorated with grapes and apples.

Guests were arriving one by one and the place started to fill up slowly. All of a sudden I saw Ronny among them, lunch ticket in his hand, curiously looking around him. As self-confident as he was, he did look completely out of place
among the other guests in his rubber boots and dirty jeans. I yelled out to him and he eagerly ran towards us.
Ronny sat down at our table and when I asked him how he had gotten to the hotel, a few miles out of town, he said he had taken one of the shuttle buses hired for the event, just like everybody else. We chitchatted on, trying to ignore the rumble in our stomachs that had become quite loud by now.
“My mom!” yelled Ronny suddenly, and indeed, the tiny Maya Chortí woman timidly crossed the lawn, followed by two more women and some kids. Ronny dragged them all to our table and with a borrowed chair and some moving around, we all fit.
“My cousins!” Ronny cried out, when he saw two young men, also dressed in work clothes and rubber boots, stepping on to the lawn. Alas, they didn’t fit at our table, so they sat at the table next to us that was already partially occupied by a couple that owns a couple of the biggest hotels in town.

Finally all guests had arrived and food was being served. Unfortunately we sat on the wrong side of the lawn and had to wait for our turn for what seemed to last forever. So I tried to entertain our company by taking apart the decorative centre piece and giving the apples and grapes to Ronny & Co. That was quite something, since none of them had ever tried those fruits before. 
Then we were finally being served. Lunch was eaten in silence. Ronny, his mom, his aunt and sister, would take little bites, chew carefully and then look at each other, communicating with their eyes in a way that made me feel left out but curious. The kids were also fed a fork of everything, but whatever was left over after that was carefully wrapped in a napkin and put away in their plastic baskets.
This went on course after course. When finally dessert was served (fried squash floating in honey) I saw Ronny’s mother thinking: how the hell wrapping that up?!?
“I’d just eat it here, if I were you,” I said, realizing too late I reacted to an unspoken question
“Yeah, you’re right,” she said, blushing slightly.
And then, as slowly as the whole event had started, as suddenly it was over, as usually in Honduras once dessert is served.

Ronny showed up the next morning at 7.00am, and kept showing up at 7.00am, despite the fact that we usually, if not always, opened our office at 8.00am. But how can you scold someone for punctuality in a country were tardiness is more common than sunshine?
Unfortunately, Ronny didn’t work long with us. Not that he wasn’t a good worker. He was fast. Incredibly fast! Sometimes I’d give him an assignment and he would literally be back in two minutes, already done. Usually it meant he had to do it over again, because following instructions wasn’t his strength, but his energy and willingness to learn made up for it. Regrettably, Ronny did not quite get the concept that having a job means that you have to show up every day, unless you ask permission. So the third day Ronny didn’t show up, because he had to bring back his horse that had wandered off to a neighbouring village. The fifth day, his mom had asked him to drop off a sack of rice at his grandma’s. On workday number 8, his horse had wandered off again, this time in the opposite direction.
Day number 10, 11 and 12 passed without any sighting of Ronny. On day number 13 I realised we should forget about him. A pity, but well, these things happen.

Two years ago I saw Ronny again. He had just started working at a car workshop I often pass when I go walking. When I first greeted him, he hid from me, I guess because he thought I’d me angry and resentful, but I’m not, so I asked him about his new job. He proudly told me how he was going to be a mechanic. I told him I was really happy for him, that he would make a great mechanic, just to stick to the job this time and show up every day.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…” he mumbled, “That’s not a problem anymore, because I sold my horse. “

So far two years have passed, and Ronny is still working as a mechanic-assistant. I see him almost daily waiting in front of the workshop, at 7.00am when I walk my dog.
The workshop opens at 8.00am.
Some things never change.

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