On a whim I decided to get my hair colored bright red. As Cece mixed smelly chemicals of a tint not found in nature, I asked if she was from the town. She snorted, and I looked again. She was tall, lithe, and stunningly pretty. Her sort had never been immortalized in nearby Palenque.
    ‘I’m Honduran. I’ve been here for nine years.’

Did she like Mexico?
   ‘Depends. There are some good people, some very bad people here, you know? Hondurans are more open, more fun-loving. I miss home.’

   ‘Things were pretty tough in Honduras nine years ago,’ I said, as delicately as I could.
   ‘They were terrible. So many people died in that war. My family lost everything. Our house, everything, was taken from us. We had to leave. Like all the rest.’
   ´So they’re here now, your family?’
   ‘My parents moved back to Honduras a few years ago. They couldn’t cope with Mexico. We never meant to come here, we were going to the States. We found this guy, a coyote, to get us over the border. But he disappeared with most of the money we had left, and we were stuck here. I’ve been very unlucky in my life. There are bad people everywhere—you really have to watch out.’

How did Hondurans feel about Americans these days?
   ‘I’ve met some very good Americans. And many that scare me. They don’t know, they don’t understand a thing about war, and now they’re going to take us to war again in two weeks. That government is crazy, bloodthirsty, and the people don’t know enough.’
   ‘Well, they know a tiny bit of war. Not like yours, but September 11th was frightening on a different scale.’
   ‘And September 11th was just like my country, because it was the civilians who got killed. So many innocent people—they’re the ones who get hurt in war. They’re the ones who suffered in Honduras. It scares me, because I don’t think you can understand how terrible it is until you’ve seen it. And the Americans haven’t really seen it yet. They look away, always.’

She painted my scalp the color of blood.

‘You’re better off here than in New York. And maybe you can go home to your family after your vacation. That’s what I’d like to do.`
   ‘Back to Honduras?’
   ‘Yes. The problem is I’m married here. To a very good man—we’ve been together three years—but his family hates me.`
   ‘Why? They’re not pleased he has a beautiful wife?’
   ‘They hate me because I’m not Mexican. They try to make him jealous, they tell him I go out with other men. Honestly, I don’t want to have children, because they told me straight out that if I have children I’m never taking them back to Honduras. They’ll belong to him and to them. And he’s a good guy, but he’s very influenced by his family. They tell him he should have married someone better looking, a Mexican. I wouldn’t mind, but he’s no looker. He’s ugly. But he has a good heart.’
   ‘Maybe you should move to another town. Neutral, no parents.’
   ‘I would, but he won’t go. We already separated over his parents once. I’m afraid that next time it will be for good. And it’s crazy, we don’t have to be here. I could open a business anywhere. Here I have to work for someone, and I make $20 a week. But I don’t have Mexican papers.’
    ‘It should be easy to get papers, no? You’re married.’
    ‘You need cash for bribes. It’s easy for you Europeans, I think. But Mexicans are really hard on Central Americans. They always want to be cosy with the US and distant from us, like we’re the dirty cousins. It’s just the same as with my in-laws.’
    ´Can you set up your own business unofficially?’
    ‘Yes, I’m planning to. All the jobs in San Cristóbal pay really badly, so it’s the only way to make money. In Cancún I made a bit more money, because foreigners tip. But Mexicans never do. They’re tight-fisted. Not like Hondurans.’

She asked how much a haircut cost in New York. Anywhere between $30 and $400, I told her, but easily a hundred. Just for a cut. She goggled. And an apartment? Two thousand a month for a smallish one-bedroom. These numbers made no sense to her. She told me of a friend of hers who had gone to Chicago to work as a pedicurist. She made $600 a week, easy money, on the tips. Cece thought she might still go to the States if her in-laws got too much. She’d leave Mexico behind, ditch the husband, and save save save for two years. Then she’d buy a restaurant in Honduras and go back where she belonged.

   ´Maybe then I could have kids. But I’m so unlucky, they’ll probably blow up Chicago the day I get there.’

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