Sunday, July 15, 2007
Marco Lopez Polo works as a crewmember on an old 1944 tugboat that is docked on the island of North Bimini, Bahamas. Everyday since December, Marco has spent hours diving under the rusty tugboat in search of a small hole. He cannot leave North Bimini and return home to his wife and three children in Honduras until he finds this hole. But even if he found the hole, he still would need a welder, and on a small island of 1600 people that's hard to find. To make things worse, the owner of the tugboat, Marco's boss, ran himself into the ground financially and went bankrupt. Originally the crew was promised to make money off the barge full of goods it was carrying. But the barge sank outside Bimini and the tugboat sprung the leak. As a result Marco does not have enough money to return home from the Bahamas.
The tugboat crew spends their days working on what they can do -- small maintenance repairs such as painting and patching the steel boat. They all sleep and eat on the tugboat, eating a diet that mostly consists of rice and beans. Marco is proud of his recipe. He prefers to cook his rice and beans separate and then once cooked he adds his special ingredients: onion, garlic, salt, pepper, but not too much, and the occasional green pepper.
Marco has been to America, were he met his best friend Rex, who is dying on lung cancer from smoking too many cigarettes. He says that I remind him of a girl he once saw while visiting Rex in Ocean Beach, Florida. Growing up Marco did not spend time on the water in Honduras. He is from a small inland village. It was not until he started working in shipping, which paid well, that Marco became familiar with the deep sea. He likes the ocean though, and has many stories of swimming with sharks. Marco says the secret to swimming with sharks is to not let them know you are afraid. People often make the mistake of trying to swim away, and that is when the shark will attack because it thinks you are food.
I met Marco when the 26 ft Columbia sailboat I was traveling on collided with the tugboat after loosing control in strong harbor currents. I drew a picture for Marco of the sailboat and tugboat together to thank him letting us dock there while we went on land for food and water. He then helped us push our boat successfully back into the harbor where we waited out the currents. Three weeks later we traveled back to North Bimini to buy a new anchor and ran into Marco on the street. He was happy to see familiar faces, looked bored, and told us that not much had changed, but that he was growing more and more unsatisfied and impatient with his job. But for Marco all he can do is continue to dive and hope one day he finds the hole that will fix the boat and take him back to Honduras.