SOCIOLOGY, SMALL SCALE

Our week's diving in Roatan brought us for dinner one night into the small city on the island. The restaurant was clean and modern appearing, with pictures of Europeans lining the walls, and newspaper clippings about the owner's adventures and hobbies. The dinners were well-served and tasty, the wine good, the company excellent, and we had a very pleasant meal. But the most poignant and lasting memories I have were of the mile ride along the bay through streets of rickety wooden stores and dwellings, and of all-too apparent poverty and privation that are the life of its people. Many years ago, I visited Japan, Okinawa, the Philippines, Guam, Hong Kong, Panama, Mexico, and Naples, Italy. More recently my sons and I while diving visited the islands of Bon Aire and Grand Turk. As far as I can recall, I have never seen a place more poor than the city on Roatan. I am sure there are many, but God has spared me from seeing them.

Subsequent talks with a member of our party who had done research on Honduras and Roatan, and a discussion by our lodge hosts that provided a brief history of the island, its disparate population of original Mayan Indians, the remnants of a 5,000 person penal group, and a Caribbean segment of African origin, gave me some feel for the way the island evolved. Based on a few facts taken out of context, it is often easy to see pervasive poverty and become a bleeding heart liberal. I have gone out of my way not to do so, and have no idea how happy and content these people are. Honduras does seem to have been developed in accordance with the dictates of United Fruit, which at one time was said to control 75% of the country's territory. People can debate whether or not Honduras would have been better or worse off if United Fruit had never existed, but many, and perhaps most, of the people on this island have not shared in observable material blessings. If bananas brought wealth, it was restricted to a relatively few pockets. Roatan is busy, and expensive tourist lodges and large homes exist or are now being built, indicating there is money and it is being spent. We were told the surrounding waters are the source of the world's largest shrimp and lobster harvests. Without greater understanding of the area, I can only conclude Roatan is representative of what I've heard about central and south America: most of the wealth seems to be concentrated among a few people. The masses exist under stark living conditions, and there is no large middle class similar to that found in the United States, Europe, and Japan.

CocoView lodge hosted an outdoor barbecue two days later. For entertainment, a local group of singers and musicians showed us a Calypso dance. It was not elaborate, and the instruments were a hand drum and two cestas. Four female singers chanted the melody, and a procession of young adults all the way down to children danced in gender pairs, boy and girl. The dance step itself was more of a two-step, with one foot moving ahead, then the other. What was lovely was the graceful swaying and rhythmic hip snap motion that made the dancing fun to watch. Some of the children were quite young, including one little boy who could not have been over eighteen months, and they were darling in their somber self-awareness and innocence. It was impossible for me to watch them without wondering how long they would continue dancing before crowds of people just like me, until they finally took their places as men shaking cestas and softly palming drums, or became part of the female chorus. One wonders about their future, which may not be as bleak as I view it, but which is circumscribed to a degree unknown in America. How can it be changed for the better, or is change so imperceptible we are unaware of it?

The yet unspoiled waters off Roatan will be a source of tourism until the congregation of people and unrestricted use degrade them. Fisheries, if sensibly harvested, may last many years. There is hope. But Roatan's citizens are faced with the ages-old conundrum: how does one make money without having it to invest, as those with wealth are now doing? We exist in a time of paradox. Russia is now almost ready for the reappearance of a new Vladimir Lenin, if the Allies can find one and put him on a train headed there. Further economic chaos in that country could cause it to undergo the supreme irony of reestablishing communism. At the same time, Cuba and its dictator, Fidel Castro, are being forced to slowly adopt creeping capitalism. On Roatan, they dance. Earth and its two dominant species, human beings and cockroaches, are hard to figure out.

My daughter is a sociologist, with a PhD in her field. Her father is a perplexed, sentimental old man who muses about, but does not help, people less well-off than he. Perhaps she or someone else may have the answer. He does not.


Sam Orr sorr@metrolink.net
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)