Honduran Villagers Mourn TLC's Lopes

With fame, fortune, and Grammys already in her possession at 30, the only thing missing from Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes' life was a little peace. It was on the northern coast of Honduras that she found it

With fame, fortune, and Grammys already in her possession at 30, the only thing missing from Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes' life was a little peace. It was on the northern coast of Honduras that she found it -- in a natural health spa and in the small seaside fishing village Sambo Creek amidst the Garifuna people, whose heritage mixes African and Indian cultures.

As fans and family buried the former member of the R&B trio TLC in her hometown of Atlanta yesterday (May 2), residents here -- just miles from the spot where she died in a car crash on a rural highway a week ago -- also mourned. They celebrated the memory of an amiable young woman who danced to the drumbeats of Garifuna music, played volleyball with the boys on the beach, and shot pool in a one-room, tin-roofed club called Billares Yancsy.

"She didn't speak any Spanish and we didn't speak English, but there was a profound connection between us," said Gerardo Garcia Quioto, 23. "She was enchanted by this town and always wanted to return."

"This is a very humble community, perhaps one of the most humble in all of Honduras," Quioto said of Sambo Creek, a town of dirt streets, small cement homes, and wooden shacks. The town's British name is derived from the Spanish colonial word for people of mixed ancestry.

Policarpo David, a 42-year-old bus driver taking refuge from the tropical sun in a small open-air community center, blew a heartfelt kiss toward the sky at the mention of Lopes. "Oooh, she was the most beautiful person," David said. "She was warm, friendly and really popular here with the people. We always wondered what she was doing here. Why would she come here all the way from the United States, which has everything?"

For Lopes, stressed by stardom, it was precisely the lack of action here that seemed to attract. Life in Sambo Creek is hot and slow. The sun rises and sets, fishermen in motorized wooden dinghies retrieve their nets from the sea, and children play on beaches lapped by the warm Caribbean surf.

Lopes first came to the area in 1999 to visit the Usha Nutrition Center, a compound of 13 whitewashed cement cabanas at the base of lush green hills in the nearby town of Jutiapa. The center is run by an herbalist who calls himself Dr. Sebi and claims to have found natural cures for AIDS, cancer, and sickle cell anemia, among other illnesses.

Although Dr. Sebi was briefly arrested in New York on charges of publishing false health claims and practicing medicine without a license, he has attracted loyal fans, including Lopes. The singer came annually to relax in the center's saunas, soak in thermal baths, and follow a strict vegetarian diet.

Two years ago, she persuaded her uncle Anthony Lopes to move here to look after a piece of land she had bought near the health spa. She planned to start building a house and a recording studio next year, said Anthony Lopes' girlfriend, 25-year-old Sambo Creek native Leslie Lambert. "She liked Honduras a lot for its tranquility," Lambert said. "She came to relax from the pressures she had."

During her month-long rest periods at Usha -- her most recent began on March 30 and was to end today -- Lopes frequently dropped in on Sambo Creek to visit her uncle, Lambert, and their 3-month-old son Desmond, whose wide-open eyes look like Lisa's.

Sambo Creek residents said they tried to treat Lopes like anybody else, but were thrilled when she sang and danced with them to the drums of traditional Garifuna music or joined in a game of pool, volleyball, or basketball. Lopes liked the culture of the Garifunas, descendants of black slaves and the Carib Indians who populate the Caribbean coast. Strong elements of African and indigenous culture remain, including the use of herbal medicines.

Quioto said Lopes "loved the sound of the pure percussion" that characterizes Garifuna music and "always talked about doing something with the music of the village." She became such an integral part of Sambo Creek that when residents heard of the car accident, they ran by the hundreds to the site to see if they could save her. She died instantly in the April 25 crash.

There were tentative plans to celebrate a Mass in Lopes' honor Sunday at the tiny Roman Catholic church in front of her uncle's home. "We were all so moved by her death," said church lay deacon Concesa Martinez. "She deserves that God take her in his arms."

AP LogoCopyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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