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In the "Cult of Escapism"

In the "Cult of Escapism": July 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

I Actually Scored a Goal

(Note: Read the post right before this and this will make more sense.)

I scored a goal this week. In like the first three minutes of the game. Heres how it went:

I get the ball and am "dribbling" down the field. Guy challenges me near the goal line and it ends up off his foot out of bounds. Corner kick.

A fellow striker lines up the kick. I get near the goal, dead center. He kicks it, I shuffle back a few steps and get right under it, jump, header, it bounces past the defenders and goalkeeper. Goal.

I scream and start running like they do on TV (why not), high fiving teammates as I go. Three fans faint. Six go into epileptic shock. A low flying plane crashes into a tree. Three women give birth simultaneously and each claim that the baby is mine.

Then I played a pretty mediocre half of soccer, got taken out and we lost 3-2. But hey, I had my moment. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Game of Soccer or, Getting Drunk and Yelling at the Gringo

My fan base is small, fiercely loyal and highly intoxicated. If I’m touching the ball, near the ball, or nowhere near the ball but they feel like I should be, they’re shouting. “Give it to the gringo!” “The gringo’s gonna score!” or simply, “GRINGOOO!!!” These are my diehard, poster-on-the-wall fans. Other fans consist of, well, everyone else.
Let me clarify something before I continue: I’m a terrible soccer player. I’m athletic and fast, which makes me better than at least a few guys, but the last time I played competitive soccer was fourth grade. And I was bad then too. But here I made a team and instantly became the most popular player because of pure, unparalleled novelty value.
I can safely say I’m unique – I’m the only white male in the district. So I can see the appeal: imagine you’re a local - you watch four or five games every Sunday, which are entertaining but similar; then suddenly a young, hairy white guy jogs on to the field, a head taller than anyone, with borrowed cleats that are three sizes too small and no shin guards. I can see how that could be wildly entertaining – especially after five or six beers.
Everyone cheers for me when I have the ball, even fans of the opposing team, the intoxicated just cheer louder and more incoherently. Even a mundane play like, receive a pass, or dribble up some open field and pass it away, receives near hysterical ovation. Anything significant - like a shot on goal, a breakaway, or even a steal - is tear-inducing and hernia-creating. Ok, not quite but I did steal a ball once and distinctly heard a female fan yell, “My love! My love!” If only it were always that easy.
But again, I’m not good and I’m a little concerned fans will actually start paying attention to what I’m doing and realize my extreme limitations. Specifically, my soccer game involves only three actions: 1 – Running fast; 2 – Passing as soon as I get the ball; and 3 – Playing rough, dirty defense. I don’t really choose to do only one of three things, it’s more processs of elimination: I can´t dribble, shoot, or pass very well. So I run fast, try to get open and when I get the ball, I promptly pass it, usually to a member of the other team. This forces me to run after them and manhandle the ball away. I generally fail at that too but at least I look tough in the process. Oh yeah, I also have poor stamina.
Given these limitations, I choose to play striker, or right wing, or whaterver it’s called (clearly Im a huge soccer fan) so that I can use my speed and not be directly responsible for goals score against us. Maybe not the best logic but there it is. It’s also good for the fans because my sole purpose is to score goals. If this ever happens, there will probably be several heart attaks and a least six or seven marriage proposals.
But given that I screwed up two solid opportunities last game (a corner kick right to my head, which I hit straight up, instead of at the goal; and the ball landing in fornt of me amid a clusterfuck of people ten feet from the goal – I all but missed the ball and sent it spinning off my toe) and that I only play one half (mercifully, otherwise I’ll tire out and people will catch on to my ineptitude), I doubt I’ll ever score.
But I’ll try and at the very least entertain a few dozen peole for 45 minutes. The more beers they have the better.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Another False Victory

Note: This blog post originates from a journal entry titled, I Won the War. Much like Mission Accomplished, in retrospect, this is the most ironic and inappropriate title I could have chosen because the day after I wrote this, a new bat began inhabiting my house and yes, pooping on my floor. But that makes this entry that much funnier, at least in retrospect and at least for you, because you don’t have bat poop on your floor.  
I Won the War
I waited weeks before writing this, so as not to jinx it: the bat is dead. For new readers unfamiliar with my struggle against bats, just know that bats inhabited my house for several months and I used various methods of removing them, none of which succeeded until recently. Heres’ the final chapter:
I finally found some bat poison at a small shop in the city (btw, remember that I tried rat poison, without success) called Vampirisan, which is a pink, odorless, tasteless* paste. (Strangely, the label says, “For Veterinary Use.” Where did the owner get this stuff? Do I need to be a doctor to use it? Can I pick a cool doctor pseudonym like Dr. X or Dr. Robotnik?) The clerk told me to rub it in the area where they nest. I never found the nest so I just peeled back a flap of ripe banana, applied liberally, and resealed the flap. To keep out of reach of children, I put it on the crossbeam above a doorway.

For veterinary use only.

That night, like many nights back then, I woke to flapping wings but instead of listening helplessly, I listened hopefully and was rewarded. There were some energetic thumps from about ceiling height and then a high pitched squealing from the ground. Encouraged, I got up, grabbed a flashlight and went for the location of the sound. Instead of finding a tiny, twitching body however, I found nothing. Turning around, I did find the banana laying on the ground, so I replaced it and went back to sleep.
Two days later, I replaced the poison banana with a fresh one, just to be sure. No shrieking this time, but this banana also ended up on the floor. Since then, I haven’t seen or heard a bat in the house and more importantly, I haven’t seen any bat poop on the floor.
Site-mate Laura refuses to use poison, because she’s a kind-hearted person, who won’t soon receive angry emails from PETA. But bats are clinging to her mosquito net at night while they poop on her floor. I’m just sayin, the Vet is ready with the pink paste. Just call me Dr. Death.

*Just seeing if you’re paying attention – no, I didn’t taste any.
Again, after a one month hiatus, a bat waited for me to write my victory blog post and then promptly returned and pooped on my floor. Unbelievable. Another poisoned banana lies in wait.  Maybe I really do have to be a vet.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Side note on the many side notes: I realized, based on careful analysis (i.e. leaning in and smelling) that there is a new poop on my floor – mouse poop. Now the rat poison is also strewn about the house. This is getting ridiculous.  

Friday, July 8, 2011

The 7’4 Chinese Guy in Your Community

Imagine you’re in your hometown, washing imaginary dishes in your kitchen that imaginarily faces the street. Your kids start yelling “Chink!” “Chink!” and you see the 7’4 Chinese guy walking past your house in a Brooks Brother’s suit, smiling broadly and waving. He shouts “Herro!” and you wave back and smile. You have no idea why he’s in your town but he’s been there for a few months now and he’s always nice to you and your family.

Having a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in your community is like having a friendly 7’4 Chinese guy in a Brooks Brother’s suit suddenly appear one day and start living there. To explain the metaphor: a few motivated individuals from poor communities request PCVs and set them up with contacts, host families and sometimes a project or purpose (like working in a school or fixing an aqueduct). So in a community of, for example, 1,000 people, only about 40 may know that a PCV is coming and among them, maybe five will know why.

Most volunteers will have a funny accent and say things like, “Can I prease has two pounds of lice prease?” Because they are the first or at least the most consistent white (or black or asian) person the kids have come in contact with, the kids will yell the racial equivalent of “chink” or “gringo” or “negro” when they walk by. And because they’re so desperate for acceptance, they will smile and wave and play cards with them at their houses – even if they always end up playing war, which is extremely boring for anyone older than 10 – and even if they can’t stand kids.

They will wear some kind of collared shirt and pants every day, even though it’s approximately 600 degrees, because they are always “on the job” and poor people are extremely sensitive to appearance (although, to be fair, few would take you seriously if you wore a tee shirt in a board room, unless you’re already mega-rich like Mark Cuban). So they wear what they normally consider casual (a polo or a Nike golf shirt) but because they have swooshes on their chests, they might as well be wearing Armani. When people come to their houses, they will no doubt comment on how many nice Brooks Brother’s and Armani suits they have.

Now go back to your imaginary kitchen that faces the road. You walk out to talk to the Chinese guy, who everyone has nicknamed Bruce, because his real name is Xi-xing Wrkyong. Bruce is sweating profusely in the July sun but still smiling as he hands you an invitation to a nutrition seminar. He explains that he has a master’s degree in nutrition from the Chinese equivalent of Harvard (anybody?) and would like to help the community eat better and get in shape. You haven’t seen your toes in two years and eat nothing but Top Ramen every meal but you know that you are planning on visiting your sister that day and there’s absolutely no chance that you will go to the seminar. You sign up anyway.
So you never go to his seminar but two months later, Bruce invites you to another seminar, smiling a desperate, pleading smile as he hands you an invitation, which cost him the equivalent of about $40 to make and required a six hour round trip to the nearest city to print. You will use it as firewood and never go to his seminar.

Bruce goes to every town meeting and sits up straight, appearing to listen attentively, though he only understands about every 4th sentence. He will accidentally show up two hours early and talk to people about the weather, “It is velly sunny today prease!” During the three hour meeting, Bruce will spend 2 hours and 45 minutes mentally debating whether he prefers Kill Bill Volume 1 or Volume 2 (he still hasn’t decided).

Bruce will play basketball for the town team. He will teach nutrition classes at the school. He’ll spend nine months finding a motivated group of people who want to start a community garden, solicit funding and spend four months waiting for approval. Bruce will read 100 books in two years. He will pick up a new, esoteric hobby like wood carving because many days he has absolutely nothing to do. Every few weeks, he will disappear to the nearest city to “work,” which means he will eat expensive Chinese food, gamble and binge drink with his fellow volunteers.

You know that several other towns in your district have giant, impeccably dressed Chinese people. Sometimes, you see Bruce walking with two other volunteers, speaking Chinese and laughing. You don’t know that one of those volunteers will return to his community and stay in his home like a hermit for two weeks, because he lacks the initiative and patience to get work going in the community but refuses to quit. After two weeks, he will go to the city again and apply for jobs in China. The other spends most of his time travelling, convinced that there’s no work in his community.

Bruce will be more successful than the other two and in two years, he will have taught hundreds of children and dozens of adults to live healthier. He doesn’t and will probably never know how many will listen and replace cup ramen with fruits and vegetables. He’ll be most proud of his community garden, which only 12 people will use but use frequently.

Most community members will remember Bruce for many of his qualities but only one of his activities. Young men will say he was funny and smart and played basketball. Teachers will say he was caring and motivated and kind and taught nutrition. Housewives will remember he was good with kids and handsome and walked a lot. If anyone asks them, they’ll say that Bruce lived in the community for six years.

A lot of people tell me it takes a special kind of person to join the Peace Corps. I’d say it takes a slightly crazy, masochistic kind of person. Bruce would say, “Herro! Coocumbah velly good fo you prease!”  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A 15th Birthday Party

To celebrate their daugher´s 15th birthday, my third host family made 15 pounds of rice, chicken and vegetables* and shared it with the extended family (of which I am an honorary member / the token gringo). However, rather than sit around a table together, mother Anglea simply handed out plates of food and people scattered, returning home (they live within sight of one another), or finding chairs around the house. I was seated on the opposite side of the house from the kitchen, alone, so she walked over, handed me my food, and walked away. A rousing party. Before you judge however, realize this is more than most people here do for their birthdays, which is nothing.

It wasn´t always like this – it used to be much worse.

Traditionally, when Ngöbe women turn 15, they begin an exciting four day celebration. During those thrilling days, the women are locked in a room and work 21-22 hours a day. They make traditional bags, pound rice, grind corn, wash clothes and brand their tongues with a hot iron every half hour. Ok, they don´t do that, but they are allowed, quote, “a minimum of two and maximum three hours of sleep.” Then they take a 3am shower in the cold river. Awesome.

If you´re really traditional, the elder women in the family put thorns in your mouth every time you talk. The lesson – shut the hell up. Or, only talk to close family members.

Now, before you feminist types get too heated, let´s go over a man´s four day 15th: work in the fields, fish, hunt, make hats, build/repair a house – for 22 hours a day. The work may be more interesting but it´s also way more exhausting. Though, admittedly, they don´t have to chew on thorns.  

And when the four days are over, they do that kind of work every day for the rest of their lives. No wonder the Ngöbes are tough. Think about quinciñeras and Bar Mitzvahs in the States. If I were a Ngöbe teen, I´d try and convince my parents that they must but getting old, my birthday´s not till October! Of 2050.

So what´s the suburban American equivalent of a traditional Ngöbe 15th? Forced into a cubicle, where you write reports, do research and make copies for four days? On two hours of sleep in your ergonomic chair, followed by an icy shower and more work? Sounds thrilling - remind me not to turn 15 again.  

However, those days exist only in memory where I live. I hear the more remote, mountainous Ngöbes continue the tradition and a few of the super-old in Soloy went through it as teens.  

No wonder the old women dont say hi to me on the street.

*Does anyone else hate the expression “veggies”?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

New Article

Another article up on PolicyMic, titled A War With Canada: