Bad Ex-pats. A story of greed, debauchery and shame in third-world countries.
I watched through Darlene's bay window, with the chintz curtains and padded valance, out onto the vast front yard and garden where Javier the gardener labors in a garbage-bag raincoat in the rising mud to clip and trim the roses. The rain beaded heavily on the window, and thankfully the lightening was absent. Rosa the maid cleared the table and began washing dishes while Darlene shook her head and yelled out to Javier who couldn't hear, much less see because the rain was coming in heavy sheets.
"If you ruin the roses, it comes out of your pay!" she screeches. "I shipped those from the US and I'm not absorbing anymore of your incompetency!" She is scribbling on a pad where she keeps track of how many trash bags Javier destroys to use as a raincoat to work in the rain.
Rosa slips the dishes in and out of the hot water, rinses, then drains the dishes before moving on to clean the bird cage where the captured bird snaps at her fingers.
"They expect everything from Gringos after that first fucking pay check," she remarks, and we move on into the great room where the direct TV flashes and the floor is polished to mirrors, where Rosa serves coffee. She continues, "You should stay the night. I -uh - I know you live whatchamacallit, remote". She feels sorry for me.
"No", I say. "We want to get back." She throws me a look, like - "You're kidding". No, I am not. And on the way out, we slip Javier a note. He looks up, then back at the bay window, then slips the note in his pocket without reading it.
Lunch with Darlene was interesting. We went to a small, local restaurant where the meal cost us less than three dollars a piece. I sat through her argument for a "retirement discount" which was given, and then I secretly tipped the owner more out of embarrassment than anything else. Darlene stomps out of the place with an attitude which says, "You are just lucky we are here to add so much to the local economy."
Back home, in less than the lap of "Darlene" luxury, I wondered how I happened to get caught up in a Darlene Drama. It wasn't like me at all. We put a rock behind the back wheel of the truck, and headed to bed where the scene of Javier, dripping in rain and fear of firing, stood in the rose bed would not leave me....
"Don't give these people an inch," she said shoveling in her three dollar meal. "NOT AN INCH! Let up an inch and all of a sudden you are paying for their dentures or stitches when they are too stupid to handle tools."
"And what do you pay them," I ask? She gives me owl eyes. "Pay them? I pay them the LEGAL rate. AND I pay for when Javier's kids need pencils for school, and I let the kids rake so they have money for school uniforms. Don't give me that look," she says. I don't mention that if she paid them a "living wage" they might be able to buy their own pencils. But then I think, she wouldn't have the grand pleasure of feeling like a "Duena". God forbid someone have the dignity of buying their own children school supplies or a fucking raincoat.
Less than Ten Dollars a day. That's what Javier earns. Less than TEN DOLLARS A DAY. And she bitches about a retiree discount at a restaurant where the meal is three dollars and she doesn't leave a tip? In all fairness to Javier, he doesn't earn ten dollars a day. He earns forty-eight dollars a week for a six, eight-hour day week where he cannot leave the "compound" except for lunch. He does graciously get Sunday's off for church and family visits.
Our other characters in Expatlandia:
Gabriela 65, (Gabby) former circus performer from Sarasota, four times married, three times divorced (the last husband missing). Runs an Internet/coffee shop and dates local Latin boy-toys named Felipe and David though she isn't opposed to considering any and all new ex-pats who move to town.
Beryl, 68, retired plastics salesman from Wisconsin. Divorced, two grown children who don't speak to him. Grossly overweight, badly in need of cataract surgery and a shower. Dates and marries 19-year old Marisol, the oldest of 12 children of the Ramirez family. Beryl parades Marisol around town in her new wardrobe which looks as if he's ordered her some Fredericks of Hollywood catalogs and what little he has left over from his small pension check each month is quickly swallowed up, what with the other 11 Ramirez children needing school clothes and Sr. Ramirez wrecking Beryls new Toyota Yaris, well...it's just damned hard to care for a family of 15 on $800 a month.
Donna and Corbin, hail from Virginia, do gooders and composters. Corbin starts a "stop-littering" campaign and pays children pennies to collect plastic bags from the town. Donna buys crochet needles for neighborhood women so they can crochet the shredded bags into "recycled shopping bags" which does not go well when there is an outbreak of ringworm and pinkeye linked directly to the used bags which have actually been collected from the town dump. Next campaign is to raise money to buy small gas stoves for the indigenous tribes in the mountains so they won't be polluting the air with wood smoke. The small gas stoves are wonderful, but the only propane tanks available weigh 30-pounds and cost more than most families make in month. Corbin and Donna return to the mountains and are devastated to find the indians have gutted the stoves and build fires inside to smoke rabbit meat. Corbin mentions to Donna that she should "leave these people alone," to which she replies, "At least I didn't give the entire elementary school ringworm," to which he replies,"whose idea was it to make purses out of trash," to which she replies, "maybe we could get these people composting toilets," to which he replies, "I'll get on my Yahoo Group and start a fund-raising campaign!" And they maneuver their $30,000, 8-mile a gallon Ford F-3500 Extended Cab carefully down the cow path onto the highway on the way to pick up a container full of used clothing to distribute. Unfortunately, it turns out not to be used clothing so much as it t-shirts printed for the Popes visit to Nicaragua for a Catholic missionary group but which were misprinted, and the kids in town run around wearing shirts that say, "Yo (heart) la Papa" (I love the Potato), instead of the "the Pope".
Verl and Roger move from some mysterious state in the US, rent a typical cement block house for $75 a month and spend $8,000 installing a ten-foot high razor-wire fence around the lot. They import four, 100-pound German Shephards from Germany and clean out the hardware stores supply of halogen lights and plastic tubing. The electric company is sent to check out the meter for the house when the bill goes from $11 a month to $300 a month. It is 10:00 am and Roger is sitting in a $700 Barcolounger on the front driveway fashioning beer tabs into a clever necklace when the electric man comes. Roger offers him a beer through the padlock gate. Roger explains in his animated Spanglish that only Verl has the key to the gate lock, and Verl is very busy turning the pot plants right now and cannot be disturbed. It's a delicate and precise system.
Billomina (Bill in her old life) is an Internet Tech person halfway through a "physical makeover" and is trying to find her way. She thought moving to a slow-paced little town in a Central American country would afford her the annonimity to stretch her feminine wings. A very nice, and intelligent person, but she obviously had some "issues" prior to her transition that leak into her new life. One of them being a propensity to exaggerate. She's been a CIA hit man, worked for Nixon, knew Elvis Presley and is the person who actually created Google but because of her sexual identity, she was pushed out and penniless. Who knows. But we all know that if she really wanted to be anonymous in her "transition" she would refrain from riding her bicycle around town with a 12-foot python on her neck. Not exactly flying under the radar. At the Illustrious Expat Pot Lucks, Thomas, veteran ex-pat, makes a point to take every newcomer aside and warn them that Billomina is a "he-she".
Meanwhile, amidst the comings and goings, the locals look on in astonished disbelief. "These are Norte-Americanos?" Well, they think..."as long as they pay their bills and don't kill anyone, who cares...."
Unfortunately.... (to be continued)