By now, the conversations are predictable. Sometimes, it’s the woman shopping at the market. Today, it’s the curious man on the bus.
“So you’re American. What brings you to Honduras?”
“I’m a graduate student in archaeology, working with my advisor at his site.”
“How interesting. When are we being invaded?”
She holds back a smile, shrugs, and says she didn’t vote for Reagan and doesn’t know what he’s planning.
Seeing her country from outside, from the view of others, is another new experience this summer. Her two weeks in France as a high school junior count as little more than a vacation.
She may be book smart, but she’s still naive in so many ways, even if she doesn’t know it. So at first, the internal logic of these “friendly chats” eluded her. But she soon recalled her advisor’s warnings.
Don’t talk politics. Don’t wear red and black. When people find out you’re an archaeologist, they’ll assume you’re CIA. Get used to it.
Cold War politics have made Central America a battleground. Nicaragua, to the south of Honduras, is no exception. The country’s socialist ruling party, known as the Sandinistas, is supported by the USSR. The US backs the Contra rebels. The US provides the Contras with financial and military support and has established bases for them in Honduras. After further US support is banned by Congress, the Reagan administration continues with covert aid.
Even before US actions go covert, the CIA is involved. She understands this. Before coming to Honduras this summer, she watched the news regularly. And she knows the Agency’s and US government’s actions are unwelcome by many in this part of the world. Hondurans don’t appreciate being used as pawns in a political chess match. She sympathizes with them.
Still, she has a hard time with their assumption that all archaeologists, missionaries, and Peace Corps volunteers are US intelligence agents. After all, she and her companions are in western Honduras, not along the southern border with Nicaragua. And she’s a twenty-two-year-old girl from the Midwest. She’s never even been to Washington, DC, for a school trip or vacation. How can anyone think she’s a spy?
But for the man on the bus, his life’s experiences in this part of the world at this point in history shape his thoughts and beliefs, just as hers in the American Midwest have done. And so even as she knows she’s just a student, this man is just as sure she is so much more.
At one level, it’s unnerving. There is nothing she can say or do that will change this man’s mind and make him see the truth. If he were to confront her, saying, “You’re a spy,” any denial would fall on deaf ears. What else would a spy do? Her truth means nothing in this place and time.
There’s no confrontation. Being a young, attractive woman has its perks. No one calls her out as a spy. The man is much more interested in being seen in the company of an American woman, even if it’s nothing more than sitting next to her on a bus.
When she returns to her lodgings, she still sympathizes with Hondurans and their impressions of Americans. She can see their point of view. She has the ability to put herself in another’s situation and better understand his beliefs and reasoning, a useful skill in archaeology, which in the US is a branch of anthropology. But she can also see the irony in them—and the unintended humor.
What if I really did work for the CIA? she thinks. And these people keep asking when we’re invading their country to use it as a base for a full-out war on Nicaragua. Do they honestly believe I would tell them? How does a real spy keep a straight face down here?
Here, in the privacy of her room, she lets that smile escape.
How about you? Have you ever faced a situation where nothing you could say would make another understand your truth was real?
- A Day In The Life Of Me – May 1980s (jmmcdowell.com)