An adventure with a happy ending when Claudiaexpat lived in Honduras.
What I am about to tell you happened a long time ago, but it is very vivid in my memory. It is part of the baggage of an inexperienced expat. Today I laugh about it, but whenever I remember it, I get a shiver thinking of what could have happened.
In 2001 I was living in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, and I had bought a second-hand Jeep, which had given me nothing but problems. When a friend of mine who was leaving the country offered me her Toyota Corolla, I decided to sell the Jeep.
In my silly head everything fitted: he had a big 4X4 because he came from a large finca (farm) in Olancho, where that kind of car is indispensable, and he was wearing the kind of hat people from Olancho always wear…
One of the fastest ways to sell a car in Tegus was to place an ad in one of the two most popular daily newspapers: El Comercio or El Heraldo. I do not remember which of the two was responsible for my (mis)adventure, but it does not matter.
One night I got a call from a pleasant-sounding man who told me he lived in Olancho (considered by all as the Far West in Honduras), and that his son would come to Tegus the day after to run some errands. He would love to try my car: should he like it, he would buy it and take it to Olancho the very same day. We made an appointment for ten o’clock next morning in the car park of a famous TV station.
I had no problem with this, even when I got out of the car after him, and saw him holding a big stone.
When I arrived, the “son” was waiting for me beside a big car, one of those huge 4X4s. I recognized him from the cowboy hat he was wearing. In my silly head everything fitted: he had a big 4X4 because he came from a large finca (farm) in Olancho, where that kind of car is indispensable, and he was wearing the kind of hat people from Olancho always wear, or at least that is what I had been told.
I had also been told that people from Olancho never waste their time. All Honduran friends with whom I had taken my daily dancing class that day, had congratulated for getting such a quick sale.
The man looked nice, and smiling warmly he proposed to leave “his” car in the car park and to try my Jeep. I let him drive, and as we talked we took a boulevard on the city outskirts, where he could accelerate and test the car properly. I did not think twice about leaving town, and I did not even worry when I saw him taking a rough track into a wood, one of the many that existed outside Tegus at that time (and maybe even today, I hope).
Believe it or not, he was still there when I got out and was waiting for us like a dad or a long-time friend.
The reason he gave me sounded perfectly reasonable: he wanted to try the 4X4 on a different terrain than the smooth city asphalt. Still chatting amiably, we went into the wood, and he suddenly stopped the car and announced the time had come to check the engine. I had no problem with this, even when I got out of the car after him, and saw him holding a big stone.
“I’ll put it behind the back wheel, so that the car won’t slide back”, he explained. I did not even notice that the car was on perfectly level ground, impressed as I was by the care the guy was showing towards my vehicle. I don’t know what pushed him to actually place the stone behind the car instead of hitting me on my head and running away with my car and my bag. Today I tell myself that I must have seemed so dumb that he pitied me.
He checked the engine thoroughly and expressed his satisfaction. We went back to town while he explained that my car was perfect for the needs of his finca, and he intended to buy it. First, though, he wanted to check the price of bigger tires for it. We kept on exchanging snippets about our lives as we headed downtown to the tire salesman. I waited for him in the car while he made inquiries.
He complimented me on how nice and cosy my home was, and spent a long time looking at my children’s drawings hanging on the walls.
It was getting late and I had to pick up my children from school. The man said he wanted to check the car documents before going to the bank to withdraw the money to buy it. The documents were at home, though. I suggested going to fetch the children and then home to check the documents. He found that a wonderful idea. I let him into the car outside the school and I got in as lightly as only a flibbertigibbet would, telling the children that we had already found a buyer for our car and that he would come home with us. Believe it or not, he was still there when I got out and was waiting for us like a dad or a long-time friend. He was very happy to meet the kids, whom he treated with extreme niceness, while following my instructions to drive all of us to our isolated home.
When we arrived, I offered him a coffee and went to fetch my car documents from my room upstairs. When I came down I found him going around the house, admiring all the rooms. He complimented me on how nice and cosy my home was, and spent a long time looking at my children’s drawings hanging on the walls. He then quickly checked the documents and said that everything was OK for him. At that point the only missing part was the money (he had told me he would pay the whole amount and then do the property passage in Olancho, which I had found a brilliant idea), and he asked to accompany him to fetch it.
It did not cross my mind that at that time of the day banks were probably closed – for me people from Olancho could keep them open with the simple power of their minds! I told him he could drive the Jeep and I would follow him with the Toyota my friend had already left with me.
Still, there were two more details, he said: firstly, he wanted me to remove the ‘For Sale’ notice from my car window, and secondly he asked me if he could take out the brand new car radio because he wanted to give it to his cousin who lived in Tegus: he himself would not need music. I had no objection, so I asked my trustworthy Teresa to help me remove the notice while he took out the radio.
He told me he worried about me going back home “with all that money”, but I reassured him: I was an adult, I was not stupid, and I would not allow anybody to steal from me!
Teresa told me later (better late than never) that she had understood everything: the ease with which the guy worked on the radio wires and her cultural sensitivity had convinced her that he was a thief. Apparently they even exchanged ferocious glares that went more or less like this:
She: “You are not kidding me, I know you are a criminal, woe to you if you touch a hair on my lady’s head”.
He: “Watch out for YOUR hair if you talk”.
So he took out the radio, I said goodbye to the kids and Teresa went back inside defeated.
I don’t know, believe me I don’t know why I regained a moment of lucidity, but at that point I decided not to follow him with the Toyota, but to get into the Jeep with him and go back home by taxi after the bank. He told me he worried about me going back home “with all that money”, but I reassured him: I was an adult, I was not stupid, and I would not allow anybody to steal from me!
We found ourselves chatting again in the car. At that point we had become such close friends, that I had assured him he would always have a roof in Tegucigalpa and he had invited me to a barbecue in his finca (we even started discussing the menu).
…the fog that had enveloped my brain started to lift.
As we approached town he asked me if he could quickly pass by his cousin to drop off the radio. We entered a neighbourhood I did not know at all, in an area of town where I had never been before. He parked the car in a lovely little square and told me to wait for him, he would be right back. He even left an envelope with documents he had been carrying around the whole day.
I waited and waited, and fifteen minutes later, the fog that had enveloped my brain started to lift. Still, I could not believe it: was it possible that he had gone through all that hassle only to steal a radio? He could have knocked me unconscious when we were in the wood, or taken the car away while I was inside the school fetching the children. I was suddenly gripped by panic: what if he had just wanted to see the house to come back at night to attack us? I got out of the car and took the little road into which he had disappeared. There was just a man in a wheelchair, who looked at me as if I were an alien and told me that nobody had passed by there. Something told me I’d better get away. I went back to the car and opened the envelope my friend had left: it was full of old bits of newspaper.
I started the car and drove back home as if I had just been extracted from the spin-dryer of an industrial washing machine. For a couple of days I was under shock, even though the same night, when I thought about what had happened, I could not avoid feeling that the guy had really liked me and that he would not come back to attack us. Maybe he was really sorry he was unable to have me as a guest in his beautiful finca in Olancho.
Claudia Landini (Claudiaexpat)