Thursday, April 29, 2010
After my morning Spanish class, my interrogator warned me about the inviting bombs I was hearing going off.
"The taxi drivers are protesting. It's not safe."
"Oh, and, you know, to be totally safe, what areas should I, say, avoid?"
"Other areas are safe, but don't go to the central park."
And, here I fought through all my logic that was telling me not to go. But for you, passionate and loyal reader, I dashed home, blinked at my no-name off-shore catastrophic health insurance, grabbed my camera, lied to my new foster parents, and hauled ass towards central park.
Really, it's not my fault. For in my past, I survived a year of teaching kindergarten. I have since had an adjusted sense of danger. Anyway, off I sprinted to the front lines.
Immediately, I noticed that, for some reason, the streets were completely bare. Well except, of course, this unruly gang of thugs heading my way. I could smell the strong moonshine of their breath even before I could see their blood-shot and dilated eyes.
"And a good day to you, group of thugly thugs."
Now at close range, maximum impact, yes, I could see, without a doubt, that they possesed 60mm homemade mortar guns armed with gun powder, nails and stuffed with a general lack of concern for anyone's safety.
While I was being sized up, I was counting the odds. 25:1 Mmmmm. My internal think tank now confirmed pessimistic probabilities. The had 8 guns, 4 backpacks with flash bombs and 7 visible machetes. I sadly fingered some sand I had in my pocket. Crap.
Standing in front of each other, nothing was happening. I knew that this wouldn't last. So, I thought I'd catch them off guard by drawing first.
"Ah, hah!" I quickly swung my camera in front. I'd disarm them with flattery.
Wait, would they think I was offering my camera for exchange of my life?
Crap, now they'll take my camera and force me to take tough-guy pictures of them for their thug trading cards.
"Yes, take our picture!"
Do I really have an option when you have forward shooting pipe bombs?
Pictures were taken, I was offered a swig from a gas can and each hombre slurred their story to me. I was in the precarious and vulnerable position of being surrounded by this crack squad. Craig what are you doing? Please! You are not some photographer for Vice Magazine. You have no idea what you are doing. True dat! And plus, there's even more gratuitous danger at the central park. You's gots to get going!
Best wishes, street sentries. I'm off to Spanish class.
"...Muy importamente, no?"
An escort? Too kind, too kind! Next time Thanks, though!
Walking backwards and facing da crew, I continued to wave goodbye until I was well around the corner.
As I approached central square, I could see it was barricaded at all entrances. I was grateful for my lack of understanding of Spanish when the police officers barked something as I skirted the barricade and strolled into the central square.
In the central square, I discovered that there were smoldering tires at every corner. I saw scores of taxis parked blocking access routes. I saw no tourists. Perfect.
It seems that the current taxis drivers didn't like the mayor's idea to sell more taxi permits as this would mean more competition for work with the current available taxis. To communicate their side, the taxi drivers had stormed the downtown municipal building and were currently defending their captured downtown central park.
I observed from a kind of safe distance as taxi protesters surrounded scab taxi drivers' cars and slashed their tires with sharpened screw drivers. Rocks were being thrown and more crude mortar guns were being flashed.
I wasn't too worried about my safety as I observed locals still enjoying a fresh panini in the central park restaurant. These patrons had front row seats for the action and sipped sun tea watching the show as if it were a cricket match.
The taxi protesters would position themselves at one corner of the square guarding against any intruders...only to run to another side when a taxi guard saw oncoming movement. This was frustrating as they ignored my complaints that the light was terrible at the other corner for pictures.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
A series of loud explosions articulated that things were changing . While everyone else knew that they were just big homemade firecrackers--I didn't.
Okay, so, I might have dribbled a little bit. But, I will not deny or confirm this fact. I was convinced the police had gotten bored and were Kent-University shooting into the crowd. I wasn't worried that I was being targeted but more worried about a stray bullet clipping one of my ears or goring one of my internal organs.
As others were howling, running, jumping or responding to the explosions by letting off more explosions, I was the dumbass sprint-crawling on my knobby knees and elbows from one unprotective shrubbery to the next. Remembering what I'd read, I stood up and then ran in a perfect zig-zag form making an inefficient dash for the green-zone of the panini restaurant.
My body whispered to me. Please, dear sir, we are tender and sensitive. Please take care of us.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
I felt a phantom vibration in my pocket from the cell phone I did not have. Mobs were fleeing in chaos, car alarms were wailing, people were shrieking, glass was being shattered, and two more panini sandwiches were being ordered. I tried to hide behind my stainless steel water bottle--I am a total genius.
Stalled cars were being picked up by a mob and were being dropped to block the street.
While I was crouching behind a fallen plastic chair for, you know, protection, I knew that already my parents were going to ground me via email--fair enough.
I spotted an ice cream cart. Perfect. But, I mixed up what I was doing and crawled furiously but in a zig-zag fashion over to the ice cream cart. I figured that internationally everyone recognizes that ice cream trucks and ice cream carts are neutral in conflict zones. I made a wiser decision to use the ice cream cart as a shielded escort as we wheeled it out of the war zone.
As I'd already skipped half of my afternoon Spanish class risking my life, I decided it was most appropriate to spend the rest of the afternoon taking pictures at the local cemetery.
Monday, April 26, 2010
It’s always a sign of good luck when you discover your new foster mom missing a sock and face down in the middle of the living room. I’m sure she was maybe sleeping, but I was late for bingo. So, I had to go.
See in my clever mission of practicing my Spanish numbers, I had accidentally gotten myself addicted to bingo. Sure, sure, I could go dancing with agreeable and cooperative backpacker girls almost guaranteeing that I could check off a couple more countries on my own personal sex bingo card, but Saturday and Sunday means real bingo at the local fire station. The choice was clear.
“No! Come with us!”
“We’re going dancing—hella fun!”
Without missing a kegel beat, I picked bingo solidifying the fact that I had exchanged one addiction for another. Like all addictions, it started off as harmless fun. A couple of games here on a Saturday night with friends and then, unchecked, somehow, there I was alone on a Thursday night with six cursed bingo cards and six spent cans of Fresca.
No lo tengo.
I would swat invasive hands of old ladies as they were trying to be helpful as they pointed their bad luck fingers at the numbers I’d missed. In turn they’d swap, with perfect accuracy, the bony part of my wrist when I would altruistically brush ants off their shoulders. I can only imagine their thoughts about the only attending gringo and his bingo sexual persuasion, as I seemed to be returning every night to flirt with fellow bingo fever old ladies. I mean, after four weeks of paying to lose it was clear I wasn’t there to play bingo.
I guess word spread about my passion, fever and addiction for losing at bingo. And instead of setting up an intervention, my Spanish instructor became an enabler by randomly interrupting the Spanish class to mention to me that a local school was having a big fundraiser night of bingo. The school was smart to pay my instructor for this gorrila marketing.
“It’s not for money. You can win things like, oh, I don’t know…things like bags of rice, soap or clothes.”
Oh, I get it you think I need to eat and bath more. And, you with your keen insight have noticed that I’ve been wearing this same blue shirt to class everyday for the last three weeks. No, I get it.
The rest of the class was a wash as I couldn’t stop thinking about winning bingo and having old bingo queens taking off my recently new prized shirt and scrubbing me with my new soap only to fan me dry with their losing bingo cards all in a shower of slow falling fresh rice.
After class, I dashed home to practice with my homemade bingo cards.
“Hermanos Neuvos! What are you doing later?"
“You want to go play bingo with your favorite older brother? You can win stuff.”
My new younger brothers came a running.
“Okay, look,” I confided, “you want to know a dangerous—real dangerous secret?”
Heads nodded furiously.
“Look,” I went on, “you can’t win money, but you can win stuff. Check this out. You can win bad-ass bags of rice--”
Okay, yes, I also wanted to be that cool older brother who took the younger brothers out so we could spend time together creating lifetime bonds…yes, yes. But, really, I just needed more labor to manage the array of bingo cards I had planned on playing with that night.
“—and some way-wicked soap…”
Shit, they’re walking way.
“—but really, I can trust you, my blood brothers, right? Okay, okay, I’ll tell you. You can also win rifles with infrared scopes."
They turned around.
“Yes, oh, and okay, don’t tell your parents, but you can also win a helicopter. I’m not talking about a toy one either.”
“Right like a big one?” They rightfully questioned and doubted.
“What? No, not like a big one, silly. It’s like a single-seater.”
Okay, yes, even as I write this now, I can sense from the future your short sighted judging energy reach me here in the past. Look, really, it’s quite simple. See, it’s my required and ethical responsibility, as the most mature and wise older brother, to teach my younger kin about sarcasm and to not to trust Americans. This will surely perpetuate the benevolent and very mutual relationship the U.S. has always had with our amigos in Central America.
My adorable younger brothers had already dashed off to scrounge up every coin they had ever saved of their entire life to join me in an innocent game of bingo. We quickly left.
“Wiser, loving older brother, what kind of rifles can we win?”
“Oh, you know, lil’ bro’, all kinds. Big ones, powerful compact ones, ones you can conceal at your school, ones made from a carbon plastic blend that evade metal detectors…”
I amused myself by watching their irises stretching open beyond their capacity.
“Well, I think I can trust you, right?”
“Claro!” They chimed in.
“Well, do you know what grenade launchers are?”
Their pace immediately picked up.
We arrived. And it was bingo heaven. They had the biggest bingo board I’d ever seen--big enough, in fact, that all 400 of us bingo addicts could see the numbers.
“Those your kids?” I was asked for some reason.
We walked through the crowd to an open table. While I was holding one brother’s hand and while my other brother was getting a piggy back ride, I notice the looks I was getting and had the feeling that there was a suspicion that I was that pedophile gringo out on the town with two young Latino boys. I felt proud that even while playing bingo I still had my creepy mojo.
“I need to go to the bathroom?” One of my brothers interrupted.
“Do they have bingo in the bathroom?”
And there we had an understanding.
The games started.
“Ah, no lo tenemos!”
“Caring big brother, that bingo prize was just a crate of apples.”
“Crate of apples? It’s a codename, bro’.”
Spending time with kids is always very important. So, I could feel my new good karma flowing into my bones. Surely now, my luck would change. I had to win now.
“Intelligent and most wise older brother. Where are the rifles?”
“Taped under the table.”
They quickly looked. Seriously, my brothers are so adorable.
“A joke, my friends, just a joke.”
My brothers seemed to look confused.
“Eyes on the cards, boys! Focus!”
Eventually we left. It might have just been me, but the kids seemed to be shuffling home with less gusto than when they had gone a skipping to the bingo parlor earlier.
The next day was Sunday, which is always a sad day; it’s the last bingo night in town. After Sunday, I’d have to wait until Thursday to get my next bingo fix.
“Bingo, mi Amigo, Hailey.”
Before my bingo binge for the night, I’d stopped to see my bartender friend for good luck.
“Fresca on the rocks, please.”
As I recounted my amazingly interesting story, sharing in exact sequence the number that were called out during the previous night’s bingo, Hailey interrupted me to tell me about his need to practice his new profession of being a tattoo artist.
“Well, Hailey, aren’t you the bartender? Couldn’t you just get a couple of gringos really coma drunk…then wait for them to pass out? You could then melt some dominos and give them a bad-ass stick and poke tattoo of a flaming bingo card. Each number on the bingo card could alternate between the numbers 69 and 666. Oh, and the free square in the middle, yeah, that could be a skull with glowing bingo chips for eyes. Hmm? What do you say?
“Why you are right. I was just leaving to play bingo.”
“Bingo, mi amigo, Hailey.”
It might just have been the result of the grape and Gatorade that I just slammed before leaving, but seriously, I had a good feeling about this night of bingo. I skipped along, arrived, gave a bingo node to the bingo MC and sat down. The older bingo widows scooted away. Prudes.
Ah, yeah—only one more.
I still needed one more number. I could finally get the bingo I rightfully deserved. The best/sad part was that I’d been waiting so long to win because I could finish this way-too-long chapter about bingo. But the best part, because I think I’m so..so very clever, was that I was going to yell BINGO DE BINGO!!!! I couldn’t wait.
And, then—then it happened.
I could hardly contain myself. I really couldn’t!
“BINGO DE GRINGO!!!”
Ah, man, yes, yes, yes! It finally happened. I was the big winner that I knew I was. A bingo granny next to me squealed.
“What?” Others were confused.
So, as only a suave bingo player could, I proudly re-announced again, “BINGO DE GRINGO!”
Ha! I’m so clever.
“Bingo de Gringo, I say!”
My addict brain came to life. My bingo story would be shared for decades to come. My bingo card would be retired from circulation. For good luck, a new series of cards would be printed with my humble face in the center square. Shiny bingo chips were raining down around me. The only Latino girl with luscious white girl curves emerged from behind the bingo board wearing nothing but three bingo cards over her pink parts. The crowd, in perfect synchronicity would put their bingo cards together creating a bridge for which my bingo beauty would strut over to me. My winning bingo numbers were blinking to the beat of the music and to my bingo babe’s steps. Immediate plans were being made for my family to be flown down to Granada. This was my moment. And yes it was indeed my moment all right. God this part is so hard to write. It seems that I have a wee problem understanding the difference between 24 and 34 in Espanol.
“Incorrecto!--” The usher announced.
“--No hay bingo [de gringo].”
My world was crumbling. Instead of bingo de gringo…I had bingo de dumbass. If I’d just peed my pants next it wouldn’t have been any more embarrassing. I tried to shrink and hide behind my fraudulent bingo card. Oh, crap, this is most, most embarrassing. The bingo commission surely would be notified.
I played a couple more of my regular losing rounds and then scurried away back to my friend’s bar.
“How did you fair, bingo athlete?”
“I called bingo but I had the wrong numbers.”
“Did you…you know, say bingo de..”
Defeated, I confessed, “…gringo. Yes…I yelled ‘Bingo de Gringo’.”
A can of Fresca was tenderly slid across the bar.
“On the house, champ.”
Thursday, April 22, 2010
We met at the local market where I purchased the necessary rations of Oreo cookies. Marcus bought biscuits. But because of our emerging Spanish and from the taste, it was clear that they were dog biscuits. Oh well.
On the bus ride out to the Volcano park, Marcus and I discovered that we had both been brought under the wing of the same street dude, Miguel, who was helping us with our Spanish while playing pool all in exchange for tacos.
“So, you are the other man?”
“Whatever, old balls.”
See, Marcus the 18-year-old Canadian had earlier enjoyed watching my face process the fact that I was almost double his age. So, you can surely understand how pleased I was when our tour was joined by a retired expat. Now I too had someone double my age.
The plan for the day was for all of us to do the 5-hour hike around the crater of this dead volcano. Team Life Stages headed off with our rapid speaking tour guide.
I wanted to go at it without the guide but I guess Senor Double My Age reminded me about some pesky fact…something to do with why the park was called ‘Puma Jungle Park’. I suppose he wanted to be more protective of the last 5% of his life.
We headed out with our guide rambling off in real Spanish. I punished myself by pretending that the guide was explaining how much more fun the hike would have been if we had been men enough to go without a tour guide. He would go on to explain how much quicker I would have learned Spanish as I would have had to beg for my life in Spanish as the extremely rare albino black panther held me by my sunburned and quivering neck.
“Break time?” Asked Double My Age.
But I don’t see the long saber tooth puma here while…I can still see the Visitor Center that we just left.
As we sat in the shadow of the Visitor Center, my guide pointed out some leaf, a piece of dry bark and a forgettable pile of dirt. As I couldn’t understand a single lick of what he was saying, I translated to make it more exciting. See, our guide felt a cosmic connecting with us like no one else ever before in the history of documented and undocumented cosmic connections. Seriously, with the risk to his holographic life, he would dare to share with us that the leaf when chewed would close the distracting portal of reality allowing us to experience the tangible Latin American Feng Shui world that was constantly surrounding us and at that very moment was recharging the vibrating energies in the chakras flowing deep in the ‘for reals’ lobes in our dynamic brains.
Our guide looked over his shoulder.
He went on. And…this innocent looking, but obviously, ancient bark when placed on our tongues, would allow us to not only communicate with the Pumas, even now surrounding us, but would also grant the enlightened user the ability to converse in fluent and fluid university-level Spanish. I was totally listening to my guide now.
The guide sipped from his drink for dramatic pause.
He continued. And, this so called 'dirt' here…Wait I really shouldn’t. Okay, I’ll tell you. He slowly crouched down and called us closer to share secretly what he knew he shouldn’t. We huddled up.
Our guide checked his back once again and went on. Look, this dirt was the most powerful substance in this and in any other world. For, this very dirt had the inconceivable power that when sprinkled on any food dish in Central America could, with its power of food alchemy, actually turn the dish into something palatable.
Whoa...I was mesmerized. The rest of Team Developmental Stages was bored.
For his own safety, our cosmic guide decided it best to move on.
After three more steps, “Break Time?” asked our fastest to tire member.
At this rate our youngest member of Team Examples of Aging would be dead before we even got halfway around the crater. Our guide went on to share more cosmic facts about some bird, an orchid, and a river that looked like it was flowing forward but was really a brain-teasing mystical reverse flowing river stuck traveling backwards in time. Dude!
Senior 3-steps-at-a-time realized that it would be best if he got a head start on us. Our guide continued to speak in too-fast-for-me Spanish as I translated it into an award-winning fairy tale.
Later in the Puma Jungle Park, we caught up with Senior Gray Panther at an open look out. He then left for another head start. Marcus and I looked out across the wide expanse of land before us. And, in perfect English, I asked our guide if we could have all the lands that rolled out before our eyes. He nodded. And, in all fairness, I let Marcus select which half of the Kingdom would be pleasing for him to rule.
“Fair enough, Sir Marcus. I will then take the territories to the left of that river. We shall both rule our respective lands in complete harmony.”
Hands were shook. Our guide asked us if we were ready to continue so he could show us where he knew a real Stargate was located. Sweet! Youth continued to haunt old age at the next look out. Old Age only stayed with us for a little pause and not wanting to slow down the progress of Team Life, again left for a head start.
“Marcus, do you think Miguel is seeing more than just us?”
“It hurts to think about.”
“Maybe, maybe it would be best if we confronted him. Hmm?”
As we were alone at the next viewing station of our kingdom, it was clear that Hombre Older was actually picking up his pace and getting some distance from Senor Midlife Crisis and What-will-I-do-with-my-life.
As we finished the loop in the Puma Jungle Park and approached the Visitor Center, our spiritual guide reminded us about the very powerful secrets he had shard with us. In return, with the deepest respect, I promised to be a gentle, humble and fair leader of our kingdom.
Ah, what a totally pleasant way to spend a safe Saturday afternoon. I was looking forward to seeing the pictures Older-than-me had snapped as he had shuffled ahead of us.
“Ah, Marcus, Older-us isn’t in the Visitor Center.”
“But the path we were on was the only way back to this Visitor Center.”
Three go into the mystical jungle—two return.
With the death of Mr. Golden Years, Team Life transformed even more into a metaphor—uncanny!
So, Mr. Guide, yep, I loved all the transcendental facts out there, but time for me to be totally square with you, my cosmic bro’.
“Yeah, so, are there really Pumas out there?”
He nodded his head.
We had confirmation.
“What about scorpions with poisonous claws?”
“So, Senior Retired Early is totally dead out there in the Jungle, huh?”
“Hey Younger Me! We got a problem! Oldest Us is totally being defensively attacked by blood thirsty Pumas!”
And, like any good leader of a peaceful kingdom would do, we started whittling down twigs into spears in order to retrieve the limbless torso of our dead compadre.
After twenty minutes of being understandably distracted by Gremlins 2 on the TV, Senior Dead walked into the Visitor Center.
“Whoa, you’re resurrected!!!”
“Huh, no. I just found a shortcut back to the Visitor Center.”
“Really? A shortcut you say?”
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Hola, Professor Romell. What can I say about six hours of Spanish class a day? It was okay. But, it was more fun to imagine that my Spanish class was an interrogation.
“What is your name?”
“Where do you live?”
“What does our Father do?”
“Why are you here?”
“How long will you stay?”
Because my Spanish interrogator escorted me to and from my holding house, I could continue to pretend that I was captured in my on upscale Spanish version of Guantanamo Bay. After class, I would enjoy practicing my Spanish animal words as I would watch the live stock traffic pass in front of my safe house.
“Hombre, como se dice?…‘horse’?”
The next day, back to my Spanish interrogation.
“What did you do last night?”
“What are your friends' names?”
“Where will you go after class today?”
Being escorted back to my holding house, I would continue to practice my indecipherable Spanish with the naked kids in the streets.
“Dónde están tus pantalones?”
My handler would interrupt, “Reck [Craig], do you know this baby?”
“Ah, I guess not…”
Back at the language quarantine house, a group of hombres greeted me with a quick an easy pop quiz.
“Reck [Yeah, I think you meant Craig], your computer has Wi-Fi, no?
Wait…how did you know I had a computer?
“Great, we want to watch the Madrid vs. Barcelona soccer match today.”
“That’s cool with me.”
“Great!” They handed me the phone.
You know what’s totally not easy? I’ll tell you. It’s not easy trying to communicate to the local Wi-Fi customer service agent with a comprehensive and extensive vocabulary of 17 Spanish words. After I practiced asking the operator's name and age repeatedly somehow the coveted Wi-Fi came to life. All the hombres then shook me as if I had just scored the world cup-winning goal for their barrio’s home team.
Word spread about the miraculous Wi-Fi and kids sat on kids shoulders as they in turn sat on adult shoulders so all could watch the almost better than Atari quality download stream of the soccer game. Those that could not hang from the ceiling to watch the game, hung outside getting updates from those inside the mini house-stadium getting updates from those who could actually see the 2 inch x 2 inch streaming window on my laptop. The truth was, I too was excited to watch the game as I implemented a traditional learning tool and had a bet with my Spanish interrogator on the game. My team won. Yes!
Because of my recent good behavior, the next day I was allowed to walk to my class unescorted. Once I arrived at school, I discovered that my regular professor was sick…probably with a ‘lost bet’ fever---no biggie. I had a new interrogator. Obviously, they must rotate interrogators to prevent any positive sentiment among the interrogators and their prisoners—very smart. So, my new interrogator greeted me and we got underway,
“How old are you?”
“Where do you live?”
“Are your parents liberal?”
The interrogator was a little distracted as he tried to listen to the soccer game that was on TV in the school’s lobby.
“Will….will you work in Nicaragua?”
“Are you Catholic?”
And with this my interrogator would pause and look at me with hope.
“Okay, yes,” I would answer his unspoken question as we would both dash off down the hallway to watch the replay of the soccer goal. I’m pretty sure it is Federal law in Latin America that one is absolutely required to stop what they are doing to watch a recent goal.
I thought my interrogations were going well until I came home one night to discover that a 5-inch scorpion had been let loose in my room. Through the iron bars of my house door, I showed the street kids,
“Yep, that’s a scorpion,” they confirmed.
“…I found it in my room,” I announced.
“Really?” They all acted surprised.
“No, really.” Look we both know what is really going on here.
“Hey, I think I just saw it move,” one street kid announced.
“Yep.” I confirmed.
“Wait, it’s alive.”
“Surprisingly, we are both still alive,” I boasted.
The street kids took off howling with fright to leave me alone with the alive assassin 5-inch scorpion.
The kids would sprint past the front door squealing and sharing informative advice with me.
“…run!...” They did a fly by.
“…dude, it’s dangerous…” They dashed past the door again.
“…you have to kill it…”
Even though the scorpion had obviously been trained to kill gringos by triangulating their location by honing in on the hum from our iPods, I couldn’t allow myself to kill this mercenary scorpion. The kids pleaded as they continued to sprint past my house door.
They were utterly confounded with my announcement.
“…but it’s dangerous,” they argued.
Ah, hah! I knew it!!!
They wanted to kill it. I wanted to take the scorpion to the nearby park. We negotiated. We kind of came to a conclusion. They would smash it with a rock. I wouldn’t look. Oh, well.
I made it clear that I didn’t want to watch.
I pleaded, “Look, not like my soon to be death, make the scorpion’s death quick and merciful.”
“No wait, really. Make it quick.”
“I won’t watch.”
I turned. I heard the rock drop. And I tell you this is true…but another miracle happened. Seriously, the rock only removed the stinger on the now 4-inch scorpion obviously and ironically sparing the scorpion’s life.
“Wait! Look! Perfecto! It’s a miracle, no?!”
After the kids dropped the rock on the scorpion’s head, all the kids agreed that it was a miracle. They also explained that the pincer hands were also poisonous. Wow, this was news to me. But, what did I know about scorpions that are bred to assinate gringos who win bets with local interrogators?
Monday, April 19, 2010
I awoke the next morning. I was offered an orange juice ice concoction, which reminded me to take my last typhoid pill. I was not lost on the irony that I might very well be washing down my last typhoid pill with a fresh tall glass of typhoid water from the tap. Oh well.
This local Managua family continued to confuse the hell out of me with their abundant hospitality by driving me to the bus station for Granada. Their phone number was stuffed into my pocket.
They said good-bye after asking me one last time, “You sure you don’t want to shower?”
Hello, Granada! I had three hotels with ping-pong tables to pick from. I wisely picked the hotel where I could bath myself in exotic Wi-Fi. I quickly unloaded my bags and rushed to the lake for some peaceful reflection on my life that I almost lost.
Whoops. Looks like a huge refugee Easter work party at Lake Tequila had ambushed my tranquil respite. I was really confused as it looked like the Red Cross had sponsored this hedonistic Easter beach bash 2010. And, as the only gringo out of 75% of the Nicaraguan population that had descended on the beach, I was equally looked at as a lost walking merman as a lost just off the plane neon white gringo.
Overall, if I overlooked the small fact that the lake beach seemed more like a soggy landfill, it was actually quite pleasant. I walked around in the punishing heat dashing from one shady sanctuary to the next in order to prevent my plastic glasses and rubber flip flops from melting.
I had a big day the next day; I was being adopted by a local family and would move into my new foster home. Also, I was going to start my first day of Spanish classes. Fluent in four weeks? Totally!
Saturday, April 17, 2010
I got bored so I Ebayed my life’s possessions away. After I accepted a half-baked job offer to work in the malaria-infested jungles of Honduras, I made a stop at the local sperm bank on the way to the airport. I also made a call to get any last minute advice from my new employer before I left.
“Yes, can you hear me down there?”
“Yes, amigo, we are skype connected.”
“Grand. See, I was wondering if there was anything in particular that I should bring.”
You know like a working understanding of Spanish.
“Ah, yes. You should bring your soccer kicks and some whiskey.”
As I was saying goodbye to my parents, my brother requested, “Well, my bro’, don’t do anything stupid.”
“Isn’t that request a little late? Love ya, bro’. Cuddles!”
In the airport, I called my Grandma for permission to leave.
“Don’t you ‘Hey, Melba’ me. What’s this about you going to Honduras?”
“Don’t worry, Melba. Please, the political situation is mostly totally over and I negotiated a break mid-contract to come visit you during your 90th birthday house party.”
“My birthday is in 3 months.”
“…Dad didn’t tell you that I was going for a year, did he?”
“No, your Dad didn’t tell me that!”
In the Miami airport, I bought my last American meal; I purchased a Pizza Hut personal pan pizza, coke and a Butterfinger candy bar. I’ll miss you, corn syrup nation!
Melba called me back.
“Craig, what’s this I’m reading about a scam where someone calls and says that your traveling family member is in trouble and needs cash?"
“Well, this will absolutely not happen. But, you and I should have a safe word to prevent my parents from tricking you into handing over my birthday card stash of two dollar bills.”
“How about, oh, I don’t know…how about a safe word like, ‘spin the bottle’.”
“ ‘Spin the bottle’, I got it.”
“Don’t share it with anyone.”
“Let’s keep, ‘spin the bottle’, you know, just between you and me.”
“Wait a minute--”
“—Bye. Love ya!”
It was time to board my plane for Central America. I boarded reviewing my grandma’s earlier last minute nugget of advice,
“Craig, now seriously, you watch out for those Mexicans with their Latino eyes and their big butts.”
There were warnings about tourists being robbed in taxis around the airport in which I was landing. There I was arriving alone at night in a third world country with way too much equipment. So, I was relieved when my neighbor on my plane offered to have his wife drop me off at my designated hotel. Great!
After we landed, I made it through customs only to watch my ride get escorted for extra questioning. Of course! Fortunately he was searched and released quickly or had his bribe readily available. Either way, his wife showed up in a tiny car with their entire family inside.
It was clear that his generous offer hadn’t been run past the wife department quite yet. Phew, plan approved! I was in the car and we headed into town. We were having a great start. This is perfecto!
“Right, Reck. So, before we go to your hotel, I, ah, need to drop off a little something-something with a friend. It’s on the way and it’ll be super quick.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
I mean, that sounds shady as all hell, but whatever. At least we aren’t in those risky taxis, right!?
We took a turn and immediately things changed. We had turned into the post-apocalyptic barrio in a third world country. It was like the Latino version of mad max the movie. I’m talking here about fires in old oil drums; car carcasses and dangling live electrical wires. And here, of course, they turn on the dome light inside the car so that everyone could see the first-world gringo. Was driving around with a gringo a status symbol? For the love of god turn off that damn light!
As the gringo pope tour progressed, the road got more and more narrow. We were now navigating through huge piles of dirt in the road. I tried to pretend that there weren’t freshly buried bodies under the piles of dirt. And here now we turned down a back ally in this third world ghetto. No one knew where I was. I didn’t know where I was and I definetly didn’t see an OnStar system in the car. Crap. See, I’d promised my ever-loving mom that I’d be safe on this trip and within thirty minutes of landing I had already failed.
We stopped. I looked for snipers.
“So, Reck, I’ll be right back.”
I bet you will. You’ll be back with a gang of machete wielding Somalians that you’ve been feeding a steady diet of tazer shocks. I now looked at his kids in the car as human shields.
My friendly drug cartel leader started yelling, “Pedro! Pedro!”
I saw shifting in the shadows.
Awesome, my year-long adventure was going to last, at most, thirty minutes. My drug mule friend went one way down the alley and his wife went the other way. Right, this is where my Nica’ mafia gentleman squares up a debt by offering my tender white meat to his loan broker.
I was now trying to all casually turn to watch for the oncoming motorcycle gang that was about to shanghai me through the car window.
My friend/scam ringleader came back, “You know, I’m going to go with my wife. I don’t really feel safe with her walking down there alone.”
There I was outside the Latin green zone alone in a car with both his three-year-old kids looking at me. The kids had a bad habit of turning on the dome light in the car. I had a habit of quickly turning it off.
My savior/traitor returned again, “So, I hear they are coming, my friend.”
Yeah, cool, so should I just start pulling out my DSLR camera, laptop, credit cards and passport now?
“I hear they will be here in 15 minutes. Is it okay we wait?”
This is great, 15 more bonus minutes of being alive. Thanks, amigo.
The kids kept looking at me. I kept looking at them. No one knew what was happening.
I saw the motorcycles coming. I knew they would be on motorcycles. They would signal for me to roll down the window. They asked me to roll down the window. They would stick their hand in. The stuck their hand in. They would boil me down for my fillings.
They shock my hand, “Welcome to Nicaragua, amigo.”
The family was happy to see their friends. I was happy to be alive.
“Reck [Yeah, it’s still ‘Craig’] thanks for waiting.”
Ah, thanks for not killing me.
Now we drove to my hotel. Well we tried. See, the streets were blocked with this cluster fuck called ‘Easter’. I know, I’ve never heard of it either. The streets were like spring break, Mardi Gras and the super bowl all combined into one disorganized street party. Though, honestly, seeing the Jesus parade blocking the street felt more like my own personal celebration that I was still alive.
We drove through the parade. Please, please don’t run over anyone in the Easter parade, as that seems like a really really bad idea.
We arrived at my hotel.
“Sorry, no room.”
Really? But everyone is in the streets.
My driver called around; no one had a room.
“You know, my friend, why don’t you just stay at my house tonight.
Oh, yeah, sure so you can force me to build a geocity homepage for you. Ah, hell no.
My capture took me to his house. After being in the States for two years, my Nica’ escort returned to his home with his dome light on showing off the thirty-five year old gringo he had adopted.
Arrangements were made. I was to sleep in the room with his nine-year-old son. There I was thinking this local Nica’ man was going to grind my vegetarian corpse into chorizo and yet here he was letting me sleep in his own son’s room.
I could only imagine his kid’s confusion when the light was turned on in his room and in walked an adult gringo man who promptly slept down in the bed next to him and slept.
Hola, yo soy un gringo and tu hermano nuevo. Beunos noches, mi hermano.
It took him, count ‘em, 15 minutes for him to leave the room crying. And there, in the dark, I totally wasn’t questioning where I was in my life as a thirty five year old man sleeping in a kid’s bed in a stranger’s house in the middle of Nicaragua. I only had 364 more days of trying to stay alive. Yep.