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

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cops, Soldiers, Bribes, and a Ditch of Doom

I was finished filming in Trojes, Honduras. I had survived irregular electricity, work, water and sleep. In fact, the only regular constant was my regular diarrhea.

The plan was to reward my leaking self with some R&R in Guatemala.

We pulled into Guatemala city. Before taking a shuttle to the city of Antigua, I had just enough time to visit the bottomless sink hole in the city. The sink hole had instantly opened up during a recent huge tropical storm.

I hailed a taxi.
"Can you take me to the sink hole?" Which, by the way, sounds like a great name for a new Guatemalan strip club.
"Yes, no problem, my friend."

During the taxi ride, I struck up some small talk, "Dude, in your life, how many dead bodies have you seen?"

I know we were near the sink hole because my new favorite taxi drive, with increasing speed, drove right under the clearly marked police caution tape. Please, please tell me we are going to try and jump over the massive sink hole.

I whispered, "big tip," in his fleshy ear as he removed both hands from the steering wheel to light another incense stick using two exposed electrical copper wires from under the dash.

We slalomed through an obstacle course of traffic cones that were incidentally directing us closer to the sink hole. My driver kept turning completely around to wink his gold tooth at me. If he was foolishly waiting for me to tell him to stop, then death was guaranteed. It was clear that we both suffer from danger blindness. His wedding ring seemed fake as I couldn't tell if the cold damp air I smelt was from the sink hole or from our impending doom.

With our current velocity, soldiers with no option waved us through. For no reason, I cinched my belt. But, my big dream of doom was dashed as we were confronted with a small crude stone wall that had been built across the road. Before the car came to anywhere near a complete stop, I was already out of the car and sliding my uninsured belly under a metal fence to get closer to the sink hole.

And there she was. A huge, cold and treacherous hole as big as a city block with no visible bottom. I inched forward on unstable ground pretending to be confused by some overly-cautious soldier's furious hand gestures. I entertained myself by taking pictures of my taxi driver who was behind me as I walked backwards towards the vertical Chunnel. This, of course, sent the soldier into a frenzy. I heard the click of a safety being released on a large weapon. I could see my taxi driver mouthing the words, Yes, my friend, closer, yes.

I turned back to the sink hole to see double the amount of soldiers all mouthing the words, No, what are you doing, you danger-blind, dumbtard?

I tried to distract the local soldiers in the only effective way possible in a Latin American country.
"Yes, hey there! Who do you want to win the World Cup this year?"
Trigger fingers slacked as the captain of the squad frustratingly watched his crack team of now-disarmed soldiers instantly start to argue among themselves.
I nudged closer to stupidity as the captain tried to restore order while also trying to determine which dishonorable soldier dared to hope that a non-Latin American country could win the sacred World Cup.

The soldiers were still confused about which law trumps in this situation, continue to passionately talk about the World Cup or to do their job.

As I was still counting the echos bouncing around in the sink hole from my original question, I stepped closer to my own very deep grave. I glanced back to my taxi driver who was encouraging me forward with one hand while collecting bets with his other hand.

An official agreement had been reached. Soldiers could continue to whisper to themselves their favorite World Cup team if they pointed their loaded guns at the absent-of-logic lobe in my skull. In my shoes, I outreached my toes to try and get just that much closer to the edge.

From the sink hole came a vapid cold existential wind that clearly stated the name Grandma Melba. And the sink hole was correct. If I jeopardized my life at this point, I would not be alive to return to the United States to make fun of my Grandma Melba.

I dangled my foot over the sink hole effectively casting a shadow somewhere in Mongolia. The entire World-Cup-whispering soldier choir looked at their leader for how to handle the situation. My taxi driver nodded indicating he was satisfied with our earnings. I was free to retreat.

"Do you think we can get on top of that house there?"
My taxi driver looked at the house hanging over the sink hole, calculated the new betting odds and then walked us over to the cops on the opposite side of the hole from the soldiers.
I prepped myself. Craig, deliver this with equal part American confidence and arrogance. Think posture.

"Hello. I am the press correspondence for Agua Claro Para Feliz."
Strategically from my shirt-breast pocket, I whipped out my Agua Claro work badge.
Craig, focus on looking like a photographer who has seen things...things that you can't talk about. Now hold that look.

And, yes! We now had a police escort and permission to get on the roof of a house hanging over the edge of a sink hole. Watching our police escort, the soldiers on the other side of the sink hole were utterly confused but quickly returned to arguing over who they thought the sink hole would root for in the World Cup.

The police chief was honored to be escorting international press. A door was knocked on, a head emerged, a cop's hand was rested on a pistol, and we were cheerfully invited in. The cooperative owner pointed us across the roof of two other houses. This path would lead us to the roof of the house that was acting like a plank hanging over the sink hole.

As we cat burglared over a rickety roof, my taxi driver, worrying about the bet, cautioned, "Be careful!"
I was amused.

We reached the precarious vantage point. I was not convinced that I couldn't feel the house teetering on the sink hole's edge. I was amused when the police chief gave me a boost to climb even higher up on the roof. They declined to follow me. Logic and dirt was crumbling away as I moved closer so I could hang my camera over the sink hole.

From what I could see, it was clear that if I fell in, I would starve to death before I died from impacting the theoretical bottom of the sink hole.

I was happy with my brush with death. So, we headed back down.
I pulled my taxi escort aside, "How much should I give our cooperative police chief?"
Not wanting to cut into our betting profits, "Nada...just water--a small bottle."

Knowing that my taxi driver and I shared the sacred personality characteristics of being cheap and possessing an illogical disregard for danger made our departing handshake feel that much more timeless.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On Being Asked to Leave the Country

In my farm penthouse, deep in the jungles of Honduras, the electricity was still out but now I had water. Well, more like fast moving mud dripping from the faucets. I asked Lupi, my landlord, about the mudslide oozing from the pipes but Lupi had a plan.
¨Gustavo, the water would be cleaner with one of the filters you install with Agua Claro.¨

Lupi was back to playing hardball. I was sure that in her part of the house she was soaking herself with a perfect mixture of medical grade saline solution and imported Fiji artisan water.

"Lupi, it's not safe for me to wash my dishes with this filthy water."
"Sure it is, Gustavo. First you just use the dirty water from the tap, then rinse your dishes with bottled water from the store."
"With this logic, Lupi, I could easily just wash my dishes with my own dehydrated brown-syrup urine as long as I then rinsed my dishes with bottled water."

The truth was that I had been having some personal Oprah time with myself about what I needed to do. And, after digging ditches for 70 hours a week, I discovered that I actually didn´t like digging ditches for 70 hours a week. I set up some time with my immediate boss in Trojes.
"Gerson, I wanted to talk about the documentary that I am here to make."

My regional coordinators were coming to visit in a week. We agreed to start and finish the film before they arrived. The only break I took during the manic filming was when I explained to my local team that I have three nipples.
"Really, all Gringos have three nipples?"
"Yes, but best not to touch mine."

While filming, I enjoyed the easy task of getting perfect audio for an interview on a farm with constant sounds from ducks, donkeys, cows, cats, roosters, dogs, pigs being slaughtered, and finally my diarrhea belly.

When interviewing the regional doctor, I wasn't surprised when after finally setting up the movie lights, we were cast into complete darkness in her office after the town electricity went out. The doctor and I played games as we waited for the lights to come back on.

As I was filming all day and editing all night, I decided to move my bed to our office to increase my efficiency.

We finished the video in time to show it to the visiting Agua Claro team as they arrived in our tiny dirt town eight hours from civilization.

"Oscar, are you humming the theme song to The A-Team?" I inquired.
Understanding how isolating Trojes was, he proudly confirmed, "Why, yes, I am, Gustavo."
"Oh, Oscar, you are a cruel, cruel man. I hope you don´t find a hair in your meal--like ever."
"I also had two Wendy´s Frosties before I left the capital city today."
I don´t think he knew how close I came to pouncing on him to hum the Airwolf theme song while I sniffed his finger tips for the sweet, sweet smell of recent Wi-Fi use.

As a gift to my coworker Fredy for being such a sport while filming, I gave him a free photo shoot of him on his motorcycle.

If you find yourself in Trojes, Honduras, consider yourself pregnant.

Anyway, Fredy and I had so much fun that I decided I wanted a photo shoot too. So, with a stroke of pure genius, I had my photo shoot at the nasty dengue and vulture infested landfill thinking the relative location would make me look much more attractive.

The next day after reviewing our video, the Agua Claro team and I had a quick conference. I started the meeting with a lucrative NGO fund-generating idea.
"See, we have these hot-ass girls on an Agua Claro calendar. No, wait! They could be topless, see, as they hold cups of water over their pink parts. They could be, you know, totally panting with thirst. And, get this, the tag line would be Don´t these girls deserve to drink sanitary water? They could be the...let's see, yes, the Agua Claro Thirsty Girls!"
They promptly finished the meeting with, "Craig, we liked the video. How do you feel about going to Haiti?"