Wednesday, January 2, 2008
front bar at NaBalam Hotel on North Beach
We made many valuable friendships because of Wilma and strengthened existing ones. I know I have complained throughout about the miserable existence we had, with no electricity being the biggest factor. But we were living like Kings compared to most of the local people. Some of that was due to the fact that we had the money to prepare in advance and stock up on things. Some of it was due to the fact that we had no damage to our house and had a safe place to be.
With the tourist industry at a standstill, people were taking whatever work they could find. There were a lot of jobs available shoveling sand. What a joke that was though. The four feet of sand that was covering the main road downtown had to be put back on the beach. And it was all being done with shovels and wheelbarrows! Back breaking work in the hot, hot sun. People were being paid 80 pesos (about $7.50) for a ten hour day. And they got a free liter bottle of water to help keep them from dehydrating! No food was provided so the guys doing the work had to depend upon their families to bring them something to eat and more water.
The city contracted this work out and paid the supervisor directly. He in turn paid the workers at the end of the week. Only problem was, he kept 30 pesos a day from each guy and put that in his pocket. It was his fee for letting them work! Plus he got a regular salary from the city for supervising this work! Graft at its‘ finest. This meant that the guys were shoveling sand all day and pushing heavy wheelbarrows of sand across the beach and dumping it for $4.50 a day. Who amongst you would do that?? I certainly would not have. But times were hard and every peso earned helped put food on the table so they did it.
Our friends Carlos and Dillum** (he who ate the last can of tuna fish!) found part-time work at Mundaca Park, where the zoo is. It was a mess so they were given four hours of work a day to clean it up. They were part of a larger crew. They were being paid 50 pesos a day ($4.50) for the half day work. But they were not going to get paid until the clean up job was totally completed. That was estimated to be in about two weeks. They cleared brush, rebuilt stone walls, painted buildings, planted new plants and redid the walkways. Every day when they got to work, they had to pass the monkey cages.
They made friends of sort with the alpha male. Since I have never been there, I am not sure what kind of monkeys they are. Anyway, they would go up to the cage every day and reach through and pet this docile creature who appeared to enjoy the attention. But he was playing them for suckers!
One fateful day they were given the job of varnishing some stuff. They used old coffee cans to hold the varnish. As was his habit, Carlos happened to be passing by the cages so he approached, varnish can with brush in it in hand. Mr. Alpha Male Monkey came to the bars as normal for his scratch. Except this time when Carlos reached through to pet him, he reached back through the bars. Before Carlos knew what was happening, he had grabbed the wet, varnish soaked brush out of the can and proceeded to paint Carlos‘ face with it! Swipe, swipe, swipe, quicker than the eye could follow, covering Carlos with burning, caustic varnish.
When he and Dillum stopped by that evening we knew something strange had happened. Carlos‘ entire face was a burning red color. We asked him why his face was red and he said it was nothing. Dillum started to laugh and graphically told us the story, complete with animation including how belligerently Mr. Monkey walked away. We all laughed until we had tears in our eyes. Of course Carlos did not find it funny but no serious harm was done. We still tease him about it to this day. Needless to say, he never approached the monkey cages again after that!
A sad, but typical, ending to this story is that after all that hard work, the boys did not get paid until months later. And then not all that they earned. The guy in charge left the island with all the money he was supposed to pay the workers with and when he returned, months later, he only had part of it left. Which he was forced to hand over to the crew who did the work. Some people are just assholes.
**for non-readers of my other blog, our dear friend Dillum died in a tragic accident while in Vancouver, Canada last October.