I suffer the risk of death while you simply have to suffer my horrible grammar.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On Having a Threesome with a Turtle

Basia and I headed to the Guatemalan coast to help break our icecream addiction.

At a beach-side cafe in Monterrico, we were having a pleasant conversation with romantic Casio salsa playing in the background.
"Close your eyes and give me your finger," whispered Basia with a wink.

While similar but not exactly the same as what I had imagined, we commenced playing a game called, 'guess where your finger is in your fish dinner'.
"Um...in its gills?"
"Ah, now its in the eye socket."
"Ouch, yep, that's definitely his mouth."

An immediate consensus was reached that swimming was not to be had at the local beach.

The new plan was to get away from the conch smoothies and head down a dirty path to a turtle hatchery. So, we jumped into the local bus which was a post-apocalyptic soccer-mom caravan with both sliding doors missing.

We were too busy peeling salty human jerky strips off our over-gamma-radiated bodies to realize that we had missed our turn for the turtle hatchery miles back.

Ironically, while we were looking for the turtle hatchery, we had come to a dead end town that was in the heart of a thriving turtle egg industry.

A quick power lesson about the state of harvesting turtle eggs in Guatemala. At the time, buying and selling turtle eggs is not illegal in Guatemala so long as the egg harvester could prove that they had donated 12 eggs of their batch to the local turtle hatchery for conservation. But, if volunteers found a nocturnal turtle nest first, then the volunteers could donate the entire nest of 100+ eggs to the local hatchery.

While there was some innocent animosity towards foreign volunteers, our presence was endearingly embraced as we confessed that we were there to see a turtle.

As there was no real predictable pattern to the when the female turtle would come ashore at night to lay her eggs, we joined the handful of egg hunters who walked the beach all night hoping to spot a turtle laying her eggs.
"Any turtles?" we would inquire.
"No turtles."
All night, we'd have this same quick conversation. But, it was clear. Like prized secret fishing holes, no one was sharing turtle intelligence with us.

After a night on the beach with our failed turtle mating calls, we returned home where our host family was eagerly awaiting us.
"Did you find any eggs?" they giggled.
"Not tonight."
And then the family compassionately embraced us.

Here comes the second lesson in turtle harvesting. The demand for turtle eggs is created by a myth that the eggs are a powerful aphrodisiac.

The next morning, a fisherman I had never met before put a cracked, leathered hand on my shoulder, "Gustavo, you look tired. Did you not find any turtle eggs?"

Not only was it clear that our host family was not buying our little story about being conservation volunteers, but it seemed as if the whole town had started a secret prayer pyramid for my
problematic romantic plumbing.

"They think you have an arousal problem!" howled Basia.
"Look, my personal problem isn't funny...trust me...I wish I were less aroused too." I playfully retorted.

We walked back through the town and noticed how the whole town had started an informal parade to cheer on my junk. Families had set up plastic chairs along the dirt road to be sure not to miss the opportunity to wish luck upon the phallicly crippled gringo.
"Low moon tonight. This is a good sign. Good luck, Gustavo!"
"Gustavo! Gustavo! The crabs are quiet...yes, good conditions tonight, Gustavo."

After spending the day receiving support from half the town for my lackluster libido, we returned home for a pre-turtle hunting meal.
"Gustavo...I cooked a big meal for you two. Ionized air tonight, yes, good chance for turtles," announced our giggling host mom.

After dinner we joined the turtle hunters along the beach looking for turtle eggs.
"Any turtles?" we'd ask anonymous dark figures along the beach.
"No, Gustavo. No turtles."

We were all but losing hope to spot a turtle. But after secretly celebrating our own fertility, Basia spotted some turtle movement on the beach. Obviously, we had inspired this turtle to come lay her eggs in the sand.

I"ll have to say that watching a prehistoric cervix drop and discharge sloppy turtle eggs is maybe scientifically erotic.

Turtle Dropping Eggs from craig downing on Vimeo.

Okay, yes, true...because we had found the nest first, we could prevent all the eggs from being collected and sold. The problem was, that at the time, we didn't really know what to do with the eggs. We didn't know if it were safe to collect the eggs with our hands. We didn't know if we should mark the nest and have the hatchery staff come collect them. So, we concluded that for now we couldn't risk disturbing the nest. We would just sit close together and block anyone from seeing the nesting turtle directly behind us.

"Craig someone is coming!"
"Quick. Ah, let's make out so they get all awkward and don't come this way."
"Right and grope my boob...that'll make them stay away."
"Good one. I'll grunt some too."

This was obviously a perfect plan. The approaching egg hunters would totally quickly walk past us.
Grope, grope.
Grunt, grunt.

"Here they come!" I mumbled into Basia's mouth.
Grope, grope.
Grunt, grunt.

This was a great plan. They totally weren't going to notice the obvious turtle tracks leading directly to us.
"They are changing direction. They are coming right for us."
"More groping! More grunting!"

We were foolish to not realize that egg hunters are highly adapt at identifying turtle tracks in the sand. The dark figures walked right up to us.
"Hey, Gustavo. Did you see a turtle near by?"
As a last ditch effort, we doubled up on the groping.
"A turtle? Here? Nope. No turtle here," I shared between grunts.

It was futile. They turned on their flash lights to reveal the bizarre scene: Two turtlephiles caught in the spotlight, 8th-grade-boob-groping with a huge turtle directly behind them.
"Oh, right, you mean this turtle," I confessed with my tongue still in Basia's mouth.

For some reason, there was a slow long pause. Then another long pause. I kept repeating, please let us live.

The egg hunting couple then offered a lucrative price for the eggs. But, we made it clear that the eggs weren't for sale.

Another offer was given. Again, we repeated that the eggs weren't for sale.
"Ah...I understand, Gustavo. You need all those eggs just for yourself. Oh, yes, we understand."

I released Basia's breast to protest, but the couple had already slipped off into the darkness to share this new update with the rest of the town.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Leaving for Rehab

Muna and I were heading back to Antigua so we could proudly brag to our friends that we had recently survived a near fatal digestive disaster.

In Antigua, I celebrated my new found freedom from intestinal incontinence by going on a photo field trip with Basia.

Stop. Don't let this cute Polish girl trick you. She is an enabler. She took clear advantage of the fact that recently I hadn't consumed anything but methane in the past four days. She knew very well what she was doing when she paid for that first gateway dose of double dipped ice cream.

At first, our photo field trips were personally enriching. We were present, engaged and aware of the photo aesthetics of our surrounding.

But slowly the, oh so tasty (focus!), ice cream was taking over our photos, our choices and ultimately our lives.

It became less about being creative and more about avoiding reality while hiding behind the false security and cheap thrill of ice cream. Before we knew it, everything revolved around the ice cream. It controlled us. We couldn't do anything without including ice cream. What started as an innocent treat became way out of control and now had become an insatiable need.

We had to free ourselves from the triggers. We had to rediscover our connections with people and our real surroundings. We had absolutely no choice but to leave Antigua and head to the Guatemalan beach coast to break this destructive cycle.
"I'll be back for work on Monday, right?" confirmed Basia.
"Totally. Two days--tops." I over confidently assured.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mudslides and Maritime Disasters

I was at lake Atitlan, Guatemala to recuperate from my chicken bus cannonball run from the north. Sadly, the recovery was too late. Muna, our traveling OCD ambassador, broke her bouts of being bed ridden by dashing to our shared bathroom for digestive exercise. I had decided to celebrate dodging the diarrhea bullet with some pleasant tea in a local cafe.

"Yes, I'll take a refreshing mint tea, please," I proudly announced.
"Would you like--"
I didn't hear the rest of what the waiter said as, immediately in that very instant, everything changed.

I was experiencing the rapid onset of diarrhea-seizures of the bowels. A clammy wave of goosebumps rippled down my back. My pants felt humid. It was obvious that the barometric pressure in my manties was abruptly changing.
I interrupted the waiter, "Sorry. Better hold on that order. I'm not going to make it. I better leave before I soil my stool."

And with that I hopped down, leaving the confused waiter with a pretty decent pun as I made a mad rush for the the front door as a Guatemalan mudslide was rushing for my back door. I went left; my digestive system went right. For the love of God, pucker, Craig, pucker!

I was experiencing a high-velocity, category-5 digestive hurricane. Bolting down the street back to my hotel, I was caboose clenching so hard I was sure I was going to give myself scoliosis. Ah, rump cramp! I'd over done it.

To stall the digestive exorcism, I pressed my rump against a wall for some needed extra back pressure. I could see the hotel. Breath, Craig, breath. I gave myself a wedgie for insurance and just ran for it.

For some reason, I tried thinking about circular breathing. And, in that crisis moment I am pretty sure that I invented un-Lamaze. Craig--not here. Containment!

While almost bloating my pants, I burst through the hotel room door.
"Craig did you find any latex gloves or--"
"No time, Muna!"

I then made a mental note that my belt was not diarrhea friendly. I would patent the quickest-release, diarrhea-friendly belt. No, not here, not this close. I was fumbling with my belt like a starlet fumbles with door keys while being pursued by her killer. Come on! Come on! I was manically prancing and jumping to get my pants go down faster and then...

Porcelain. I had made it. My toes stretched then curled into knots, my lower lip unattractively quivered, and the backs of my knees released a never-experienced glandular sweat as I appreciated full excretal Nirvana.

"Impressive," mumbled bed-ridden Muna while trying to breath from inside her pillow case.
My rear fanny faucet wouldn't stop.
"What was that?" Muna hollered.
I responded over the high dB levels of BM flow, "I'm a little worried that if this doesn't stop, I'll die of dehydration."
"Can you at least shift your flow to the bathtub. My booty brakes just gave out too."

We spent the next three days tethered to our bathroom. Though, we found ways to keep ourselves entertained. For example, we timed the duration of our fecal leaks, dutch oven-ed the entire hotel, and we tried to get high off lethal levels of methane.

Our symptoms were ever changing. Sometimes we had the chills. Then we had moist fevers. Then there were times when our legs would have the chills but our arms would have a fever.

From our beds, we asked each other for updates.
"Anything solid?"
"Nope, still soup."

Watching the light change through the window, we counted the days. By day four, we were tired of being diarrhea prisoners. We were willing to risk a quick field trip. First we tried five steps in front of our hotel door.
"You good?"
"Yep. You?"
"Uh huh."
Then ten steps more.
"I'm feeling lucky."
"I'm good--wait...false alarm--just a methane fairy. I'm dry. Let's keep going."

Our ambitious goal was to make it to the dock for a quick jaunt to the other side of the lake. Our idea was that if we pretended we weren't dying from diarrhea, we would recover faster. It was a little thing I like to call mind over fecal matter.

We shuffled our way to the docks.
"My ballasts are empty. Let's do this."

We'd come so far that regardless of our hemorrhaging bowels, we were determined to get pictures of this panoramic paradise.

During our quick photo shoot, Muna found a convincing I-don't-have-diarrhea face and stuck with it.

I tried but couldn't stay focused.

"Muna, I'm sensing some seismic activity. We better get back to home base."

So, the diarrhea duo took the next boat back across the lake. Oh, heavens, you think yourself so very funny. I know, I know.
"Muna, why is the boat slowing down? Seriously."

And here, exhausted from sphincter stress, I kid you not, our boat runs out of gas. In the middle of the lake, we were equal-distant from any available bathroom.
"Muna this is bad." I stated the obvious.

Like good Guatemalans, everyone else on the boat was just going to patiently wait for the non-existent lake tide to take us to the shore as I was struggling to hold back a digestive tsunami. I had to take action.

I leaned over to the boat captain and quietly informed him that my friend there had an unholy case of diarrhea. I went on to share that Muna could easily produce a certain quantity not unlike the volume of this very boat to which we would all sink and die.
"En serio." I confirmed.

As everyone blatantly scooted away from her, Muna explained, in better Spanish than me, that I was lying and was suffering from delusional diarrhea. But everyone was too busy mad-dialing the diarrhea Make-A-Wish Foundation to get us some emergency boat fuel.

Three speed boats scrambled to our aid.

When we arrived at the dock, everyone insisted we both disembark first. We thanked everyone for their understanding. I then promptly took both of my hands and held my rear flanks pressed together as Muna and I shuffled back to our diarrhea dungeon.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hygiene Mugging and 13 Surgical Stitches

"Hand-Sanitizer Rape!" I protested as our friend Muna was cornering me with two pump-action sanitizer bottles.
"Craig, when you sit on my bed, your perineum secretes oils onto my bed!" complained Muna.
Looking at her itchy trigger fingers on the approaching antiseptic lotion bottles, I questioned, "What--you gonna sterilize my perineum?"

With Muna almost being an institutionalized obsessive clean freak and me suffering from attention to hygiene deficiency disorder, in reality, we weren't doing that bad while we shared our travel space.

We had just arrived in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. We were going through our daily negotiation for the rules of where I could sling my jock-itch socks and my explanation of why it was unnecessary to use hand sanitizer on the room's Television screen. An agreement was reached and we air shook hands--real handshakes spread Japanese Encephalitis.

I was then off on a mission. See, I had recently discovered that the end of my shoe was developing a hole. I would never admit this to Muna, but the hole in my shoe couldn't have been a more clear reminder of the fact that I needed to clip my Appalachian talon toe nails. Shhh!

So, not wanting a hygiene lecture from DJ OCD, I secretly dashed off to purchase, this thing called, a toe nail clipper and to make an appointment for shoe surgery. Thirteen stitches later, mission accomplished!

Ironically and, well, not surprisingly, Muna was bed ridden and feeling ill when I returned. So, I was left to wander around the little town of San Pedro.

Sometimes I get so focused on trying to find the perfect nachos, the fastest dial-up internet, the cheapest tour package, and the best place to get mugged that, honestly, I sometimes forget why I love traveling so much. So, I was completely travel t-boned when I got sideswipe by a spontaneous spectacular parade.

I had no idea what the parade was about. But, from the looks of it, neither did the locals.

Minus the fact that it looked like a gang had looted a costume shop, the event was a fusion of every secret society and world celebration compressed into one exciting parade. It was part Mardi Gras and part Illuminati.

Fireworks were cracking, people were clapping, and musicians were singing to this unique music. It was so true and real. I laughed imagining another me tied to my office chair with CAT5 Ethernet cable secretly looking online for a cheap escape airline ticket to travel bliss. The whole event in the street was so authentic and unpretentious. Sure enough, and I hate it when this happens, but I started to cry. But really, I didn't have a chance. The event was so beautiful and real.

I thought being the only tourist there it might be a problem. But, everyone was so inclusive with me. I don't know why, but as I followed the parade, people randomly started giving me high fives. And then the alpha pirate priest nodded invitingly to my camera.

Some dude was lugging car batteries for the parade's 3-ton tsunami speaker. There he was dancing an almost levitating jig. How could I resist buying him a bag of water. He was grateful as I watched him catch it in his mouth, puncture it with one of his canine teeth and hydrate without ever using his hands.

Wait! Then for a second, within this hokie small-town tradition, I was afraid that everyone was giving me high fives because the secret society had picked me to be the honorary annual sacrifice.
"Who cares, silly! Keep taking pictures!" demanded my camera.

I followed the razzmatazz royal parade for a bit longer and then ducked down an escape ally to go back and check in on Muna, our travel cohort.

"Yeah, and then, Muna, get this! They were giving me high fives and--"
"--Craig, wait. Did you first clean the water bottle cap with antibacterial baby wipes?" questioned Muna.
"Kind of...and then, wait. Where was I? Oh yeah. At the parade, they had masks on and--oh right. Look! I fixed my shoe--"
"--Nice...but did you actually wash your hands before you used the antibacterial baby wipes on my water bottle?"
"Oh, Muna. Seriously, you are so, so, so OCD."
"And, Craig, you are so, so, so ADD."
"Air high fives?" I offered.
"Air high fives." agreed Muna.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Projectile Vomiting and Mayan Mojo

Our friend Muna was eager to get to the Mayan site of Tikal, Guatemala.
"I signed us up for the sunrise tour," she announced with a smirk.

We both knew that we'd leave at 4:15 a.m. the next morning and that we would most likely fall asleep at the temples and miss the sunrise anyway.

I don't remember getting up that next day at a punishing hour. But, I did remember when I started to become aware that I was on a bus.

"Muna...Muna...are you awake?" I whispered.
She gave me an opinionated answer by punching me in the ribs.
"Seriously, Muna. Is this really happening?"
"Yes, Mayan temples...heart of a lost civilization...sunrise tour...blah, blah, blah. Yes, it's happening, " she mumbled.
"No, Muna. Look."
Somehow my agnostic prayers had been answered. Looking and listening, I had noticed that I was alone on a bus full of Scandinavian women. It was as if I were being smuggled into a girls volleyball camp.
"You're welcome," Muna offered as I was still flattening my stubborn eyebrow hairs and manically rubbing my arm pits to stir up some irresistible pheromone musk.

As I was kind of hoping the bus drive would have a quick and painless aneurysm so we all could be a little more alone, one girl abruptly stood up and vomited out three pancakes, grape Gatorade and a tequila worm. My fantasy was officially over.

We went on to drive in seven minute bursts pulling over each time for our prolific puker to create another 1 mile roadside marker. Muna offered her a napkin, which our afflicted passenger promptly puked through with velocity vomit. Our vomiting passenger tried to apologize but couldn't help replacing all her prepositions with hurl.

Eventually the chucker passed out from vomit exhaustion and the bus rushed to the Tikal temples.

"Come on Muna, please!"
I was whining to Muna to stealthfully take a picture of me with our girls volleyball team.
"Will you promise to shower?" Pleaded Muna.
"Yes, yes. I promise to wash all my lymph node crevasses," I feverishly announced.

We then entered the Tikal temple park. But, due to either getting up so early that it was basically still yesterday, the 274 kelvin heat, or the powerful Mayan Mojo, Muna and I kind of went nuts at the temples. For example, we decided to have some sort of human panther photo shot:

Muna kept insisting on getting choking pictures:

I decided it was a good idea to put a fat and hairy spider in my food-filthy hands:

And, I concluded that descending down bends-inducing stairs was a great location to close one eye and experience the loss of parallax vision.

Overall, even though no one got blow-darted and absolutely no one would sell me a magical Toucan beak, I was not disappointed with the temples.

In gratitude for the international passengers on our bus, I thanked the Mayan spirits. I also asked for forgiveness for flat out lying to Muna about promising to shower.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Economy of Bribes While Kind of Being a Traitor

Crap! Leaving my Mexican hotel for Tikal, Guatemala, I had realized that once again, Captain Details, had added to his unplanned extensive collection of 2nd and 3rd world hotel keys.

I was heading to Tikal for a little Mayan get away. Tikal is basically the
Machu Picchu of Central America.

Though, to be completely honest, initially I was hella ho-hum about Tikal. But, then I discovered that a little known movie called Star Wars filmed a scene there. Now, I was on a thirteen hour bus/boat combo to be in the very holy presence of where the revered Sir Hans Solo once stood--the rebel base on the jungle moon of Yavin 4!!

Even after stashing my ever-growing hotel key collection in another passenger's bag, there were immediate problems at at the remote Mexican/Guatemala border crossing.

"$26," demanded the Mexican agent as he seized my passport while somehow not looking up from his lunch.
"Yes, good sir, but as we both know very well, as I have spent less than one week in your fine country, I am unfortunately exempt from your very reasonable fee of $26," I humbly offered.
My Passport was put in a draw as the original financial request was repeated.

"See, I wish not to pay as it would disrespect the upstanding law that exempts me from this fee."
"Okay, okay. $14." The original retail rate was kindly reduced.
"Ah, you see, here on my Yahoo-answers print out. You can clearly read that this is really no need for me to pay this fee in my case."
"$5. That's the best I can do," offered the agent.
"The fact is, professional and just border agent, that I don't have such money."
"There is an ATM back in Palenque," shared the border agent.
"Why, that's two hours in the opposite direction."
"No worries. We will wait. Your passport will be safe with us."
"Well, in that case, I'll just take back my passport and take my chances swimming across the river to Guatemala."
"Sergio!" the agent called in back up.

My passport was presented to the supervisor while the current pricing structure in our bartering situation was explained.
"$4.50," offered the supervisor while tapping my passport.
Both the supervisor and the original border agent optimistically turned to me with clear indication that this was a very good price.

But, it was true. I really had no money so I made one last very lucrative offer.
"Okay, look. How about this. I promise, during the next World Cup, to generously support and cheer for Mexico."
There was a stunned pause. In surprise, both the supervisor and the agent turned to each other to reflect on this new more valuable offer. There was much emphatic nodding.

They then both fought over themselves for the honor of stamping my passport. They respectfully compromised by putting both of their hands on the border stamp and validated my passport together. My passport was then dusted off and gently placed in my hand. Then, gleeful hand shakes were offered from the border cage.
"Thank you for visiting Mexico. Good day, sir!"

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mr. Rebel, Can I Have My Passport Back?

At the time, my Guatemalan visa was about to expire. But, I discovered a look-tight loop hole where if I reached over the border and dangled my passport in Mexican airspace, snap, I could instantly reset my Guate' visa.

"Como?" The Mexican border agent was confused about my loud long extended celebration.
"...laaaaaassooooooo!!! Oh, sorry. Argentina just scored a goal."
"Against Mexico," added the unamused border agent as he held my not-yet-stamped passport.
He expressed his displeasure with my World Cup antics by power-hammering a stamp into my passport. I quickly jumped back on the bus before he stuffed me into an underground mule tunnel to Detroit.

"Hello! There is no toiler paper in here!" I yelled from the Mexican hotel bathroom.
"$1!" replied the local hotel staff.
I replied by clearly articulation that I was then not accountable for how I may or may not use the bathroom faucet to clean myself if paper was not properly and freely provided. A square piece of 300-count Egyptian cotton was slipped under the bathroom door. I was happy. Actually, I was also a little nervous. See, before leaving Guatemala, I was given a hot lead for visiting and interviewing Zapatista rebels.

I dashed out of my hotel to meet my initial Zapatista contact. My instructions were to knock on an unmarked door that was directly in front of a local church. The surveillance cameras around the door would identity which door. Unfortunately, when I arrived, I couldn't see any door that looked promising. I only saw a bunch of shoe stores and hammock shops.

"Can I help you?"
"You sure can," I confided. "Well, see, I'm ah...I'm here to interview, you know..."
While tweaking my optimistic eyebrows, I nodded my head to the Subcomandante Marcos T-shirts hanging on the wall.

There was a show of him all pretending to look confused. That's cool. With us both standing there alone in the store, I just let the awkward pause hang there, using it to my advantage to let him know that I was serious.

I wiggled my eyebrows again to break the silence. He responded by knotting his.

To let this Zapatista secretary know I was serious. I kind of lied and said, "Look. It's okay, compadre. I have an appointment."
There that will speed things up a little bit.

While it might have looked like he was gesturing to the door for me to leave, I knew that he really meant for me to speak with the sympathetic taxi driver out front. I hopped into the taxi satisfied that I was finally getting somewhere. The taxi driver merged with the traffic.
Though it really wasn't necessary, I proudly announced our obvious destination, "La Oficina de Los Zapatistas, por favor."

In an unprecedented act in the history of all taxi drivers, he actually released the car horn to be sure that he had indeed heard me correctly.
Exaggerating a little bit, I confessed, "It's cool, my friend. I know the password."
The taxi driver reclined his chair all they way back into my lap to be sure that he had heard me correctly.
"Oh?" the driver was waiting or confused.
I leaned forward to share the password, "...'Rage Against the Machine'..."
The driver promptly dropped me off at the next street corner.

Okay, fine, this wasn't working out so well. New plan. I had solid intelligence on where their compound was. I'll just go there directly myself, interview all the top ranking commanders, get deputized, snip' an enemy and then, of course, be invited to be a lifetime board member.

While taking a shuttle out of town to the Zapatista compound, I was day dreaming about how I would surely meet a female rebel. I would woe her with my hand-stitched ski mask that would have a heart-shaped opening for her beautiful eyes, bridge of her nose and eyebrows.

Suddenly the shuttle stopped and the door swung open. As the shuttle tore off, I was hurdled out in front of a Zapatista guard box.
"Good Day," came from a motionless ski mask.
And a good day to you, sir Zapatista rebel.

I was handed a customs form and asked to hand over my passport for review. I was standing at a blockaded road with two guard boxes. Behind the guard boxes was a small little Zapatista town with a dirt road that went to a parade field.

"We will confirm with the commanders that you may enter," reported the guard.

My application and passport were handed off to another masked rebel who ducked into a nearby office to review my application. Not that I was worried, but I did appreciate that I had just simply handed over my passport to two masked rebels. I then asked the rebel guard if he had a ski mask tan line. He responded by asking me to step back and to put away my camera.

As I knew with unquestionable confidence that I was personally being watched during my security review, I wanted to look as pleasant, cooperative and socialist as possible. So, loudly, for all to hear, I greeted every single passing pedestrian and then emphatically waved to them as they crossed the visible horizon. I spontaneously and unconditionally helped an elderly lady shuck corn. And finally, I discreetly dragged four local kids over to the guard so that he could see me give them each an identical Popsicle. Clearly I would be fast-tracked into the rebel compound.

Overall, I must admit, I was thoroughly impressed with the meticulousness of my security review as I was able to observe three hourly guard changes.

Then a naked-faced Canadian announced, "You know you can wait in their information booth."

He also shared that he had already been waiting for seven hours.
I thought about this and then shared my solution, "Mmm, maybe if we bought ski masks from the shop across the street, well, we could just walk right into the compound without any issues at all."
Doubt was expressed.
I followed up with, "But, what if we added life-size cut outs of
Subcomandante Marcos' face under our ski masks--"
"--They'd noticed," concluded the pessimistic Canadian.
"Right. But not if you created a distraction, like, by dropping your pants. Huh? What do you think now?"
Due to his questionable cooperation in the face of all that is logical, I was forced to conclude that he was part of the elaborate security review process.

While I let my Canadian team mate have more time to think about my perfect plan, I remembered a recommendation by some of my friends and got my picture with the Zapatista soccer team.

Still there hadn't been any decision on my security clearance. Obviously, they were too busy showing off my Facebook pix to all their squadron leaders.

But, with their media black out and the last transportation back home leaving in 10 minutes, I had to concede that my fantasy of hijacking the heart of a Zapatista rebel wasn't going to happen. I also concluded that it best not to have a summer slumber party with remote revolutionary rebels anyway as it might trigger a spontaneous second menopause with my ever-worrying mother. So, I asked to have my passport back. And to insure a better chance for my Canadian friend, I left after advising the Zapatista guard not to worry because I was absolutely 100 percent sure that other white guy was definitely not a spy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Being the New Director of an NGO

As children in neighboring towns were using dead dogs for soccer balls, my mouth was in Antigua single-handedly making owning an ice cream shop a sudden lucrative business. But, as the newly appointed dictator of my recently chartered NGO, Misanthropes Without Borders, I made the executive decision to put down the cappuccino chocolate-dipped pistachio ice cream waffle cone and get back to volunteering. EducArte was the first organization to snatch up the contract agreeing to my exorbitant fees of 1.3 million pro bono dollars. From there, the process started to run like an underground political liberation group. I was told to wait at an unmarked street corner. No other info.
"Are you Gustavo?"
"We have a pickup truck waiting."

I had passed the first level of security. I was walked around a corner where an unlicensed white pickup truck was waiting. The dark purple tinted window of the pickup truck rolled down an inch and I shook the hand that emerged.
"Quick. In the back. Others are waiting."

I threw in my tripod and my camera bag. In the back of the bouncy pickup truck, my initial contact continued to stare at me from her over-sized reflective aviator sunglasses. As she monitored me, I amused myself by lathering on sunblock of 60 SPF--5 SPF points from effectively being tar.

Though I could see that no one was following us, we continued to manically snafu through cobble stone alleys.

We then stopped in front of an ice cream shop. Instinctively, my stomach stretched open and I leaned forward to get out. Senorita Aviators slowly shook her head. I sat back down frustrated with myself that I had just given away one of my weaknesses.
Where the hell did you come from?
There was now an older gentleman sitting next to me in the back of the truck.
I introduced myself, "Hi, I'm a volunteer."
"Right, I'm a professor."
Of course, the one time in my entire life that I'm not sarcastic.

The truck lurched forward. Professor Sarcasm and I jerked backwards. Senorita Aviators remained perfectly still.

Almost head-butting me, Professor Sarcasm leaned over and whispered, "We are glad to have you on board."
I pursed my lips and nodded instead of saying anything incriminating in case he had a mic.

Even before we stopped, Senorita Aviators had already leapt from the truck perfectly timing her landing with the exact moment the truck actually came to a stop. With her aviators still pointed at us, she stuck out her arm and knocked three and a half times on a piece of plywood stuffed into a clay wall. It opened. Senorita Aviators discreetly articulated with her head that we should enter.

We were shuffled into a storage shed where behind potato sacks sat a young couple working on an elementary-school-surplus Dell computer.
"Hi. We're from Berlin."
Of course! There's always a couple from Berlin. This group was serious.
"He's our volunteer."
I wondered why no names were being used.
"We should load up the equipment now."
I didn't ask any questions as we loaded heavy crates and ambiguous black trash bags into the back of the truck. We were driving to the front lines. I was being given a personal escort to the epicenter of a recent catastrophic mudslide outside of Antigua, Guatemala.

We drove up to the police lines. Senorita Aviators nodded to the security guards in aviators. They nodded back. The police line was lifted and we drove through. While facing us, Senorita Aviator reached back and tapped the truck cab one time with one finger and the truck stopped.
Professor Sarcasm confessed, "We don't have much time. Follow me."

Professor Sarcasm and I jumped out as the truck drove on with Senorita Aviator still staring back at us leaving me to wonder if she hadn't sustained a recent neck injury that minimized her neck mobility.

"In here..."
Professor Sarcasm and I ducked down into a muddy ally way. Okay, to save me time just add the word 'muddy' before every noun I use here. See, a recent catastrophic mudslide had slammed into everything. Though, staring down at the corrugated sheet metal at my feet, I didn't really see what the big deal was. Well, until I realized that the corrugated sheet metal was a roof and basically the whole town was underneath me buried in wet mud. Then I noticed more from the flat nondescript mud lot. I noticed stiff dog legs sticking up from piles of mud. I saw antennas from houses cornering up from the surface. The complete houses I did see had mud oozing from the top windows.

"There! Take a picture there!"
Professor Sarcasm was helping me figure out what was disastrous in this disaster. I saw people using whatever they could to move the hopeless tons of mud. I saw people using their hands, soggy pieces of cardboard and coveted shovels.

"And look here!"
After a week, some houses had been cleared. You could see by the unwashed walls how high the mud tide had reached.

It all seemed hopeless to me. It seemed more logical to just secede to the mud--to just move on, start over and build a new town. It was like watching someone mining with a toothpick. But, there they were. Impoverished farmers from the entire region grabbing a shovel without asking and, shoulder to shoulder, moving mega tons of mud one tiny shovel at a time. Unfazed, they hadn't stopped for a week. My camera felt embarrassing.

"And now this way...pictures of the kids..."
Professor Sarcasm handed off a jug of water and rushed me back to the town square. The crew from the truck had set out to help the now homeless kids. Even for just an hour, this organization had set up the most make shift art and book center for these stranded kids. With just some basic books, paper, balls and hula hoops, they had set up an engrossing kid zone in the middle of this disaster.

Even for just that afternoon, the kids could look at books, art, clowns, puppets and effectively turn their eyes away from all the destruction. I had to remind myself that I wasn't a douchebag with a camera. I had to remind myself that this was how I was asked to help. I saw that with some paper and a scrap piece of carpet, this group had created an art school. With just three balls they had created a magical circus. And, with some donated books they had created an enriching library.

I was so impressed with what this group was doing with so little. The impact was impossible to ignore and I was beaming with, uh oh, happiness. In the food camp, with glee I gulped down the soup made from the rain gutter run off. I giggled when, in the commotion, I was left behind and had to hitch a ride with a clown. And, I was still giddy the next day when Senorita Aviators sent me a directive via text message:
2pm. Corner of 2a Calle. Have the picture data disc.

Because I couldn't wait, I was an hour early. And, as I was so proud to contribute in anyway, I failed to compliment Senorita Aviators on her security bike with its pink banana seat before she efficiently peddled away with the pictures.