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In the "Cult of Escapism"

In the "Cult of Escapism": April 2012

Friday, April 27, 2012

An Open Letter to the Person that Pooped on my Toilet Bowl

I expect unpleasant surprises when I come back from trips out of my site. Stephen Hawking reminds us that chaos is the natural order of things and that an unattended house is perfect proof of this theory. Normally, the chaos and ensuing surprises are created by animals, insects and nature. These annoy but don't bother me nearly as much as human acts. Mice don't know that they're plundering my house and then pooping in it – they just follow their noses. However, humans choose to steal or vandalize or otherwise maliciously affect my temporarily vacant living space.

So far, these malicious acts have been minimal. Someone once stole my clothesline (really?) and a different time someone emptied my shampoo bottle and filled it with water. Like I wouldn't notice. But I remember those occurrences not so much because they hurt my feelings or made me feel threatened, but because they were so ridiculously trivial and unnecessary.

This past week though, you did something beyond forgiveness: you pooped on my toilet seat.

Really dude, you pooped on the toilet seat? ON it? We may be in the boonies but almost every family here has access to a latrine or has at least used one. Which means they know that you poop in the hole. Even if, somehow, you have never seen a toilet seat or a latrine, it's pretty fucking self explanatory. Poop IN the hole. IN it.

I'll even give you the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe you had raging diarrhea and didn't quite make it to a full seated position. Happens to the best of us brother, but what do we do afterwards? CLEAN. IT. UP. Did you notice the state of the toilet bowl before you sat on it? White. Did you notice the state after? BROWN. Fucking brown because you POOPED on it.

Am I angry? Yes. Am I confused? Yes. Flabbergasted, perplexed, annoyed and irate? Yesyesyesyes. I see no cultural forgiveness in this situation, no other side of the coin. They say not to put black and white hats on any judgment but I'm judging black black black on this one.

The solution here would be to either bring my toilet seat back up to the house after every use or put a locked door on my latrine. It seems pretty pathetic to have to do either. I don't care if you use my latrine, so long as you use the latrine. As in, the hole that already has a pile of shit inside.

There are few things I'd rather do than clean someone else's feces. One is punch myself to death. Another is go to a country music festival. I'm brainstorming and having a hard time thinking of many others.

But you, whoever you are, I'm going to clean up your poop and put my toilet seat back in my latrine and maybe a sign with some instructions (i.e. 'IN the hole'). And if I ever find out who you are, I'm going to go to your house and poop in your living room.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fly Like a Bird and Shit Like an Elephant

I have no actual blog post for this title, I was just reading one of the Peace Corps manuals about teaching business skills and came upon a phrase that basically translates to: 'fly like a bird and lay down like an elephant.' The metaphor still confuses me but I think it's basically saying that a succesful business needs good promotion in many places (bird), but also masters the details of its operations (elephant?).

Anyway, I didn't know the verb deponer, so I looked it up and discovered that it means either 'to lay down' or 'to defecate.' Which means, depending on how you receive the translation, I could be advising aspiring entrepreneurs to 'fly like a bird and shit like an elephant.'

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Inherent Advantages

One of my favorite parts of living down here is that what were formerly mediocre parts of my appearance have become physically attractive and advantageous. Specifically, the following three attributes:

1. I'm Tall
I don't have any statistics on this, but I'd guess that the average Ngäbe man is about 5'5 or 5'6 and the average woman a few inches shorter. At 5'9, this gives me a distinct height advantage in sports and a solid view of the tops of peoples' heads.

 This is a nice change from the U.S., where I'm supposedly average height, but I definitely feel short most of the time. I had learned to live with my position as perpetual point guard and to stand on tiptoes in a crowd; here, I have become the go-to spiker in volleyball and the guy that tries to cherry-pick goals on corner kicks (the Tim Crouch if you will).

I did expect to gain a new perspective on the world during my service, but I was thinking more about a poverty perspective, rather than a literal, physical one. I feel I can now walk between multiple worlds – rich and poor, tropical and temperate, tall and short. I feel like an Animorph.

2. I Have Beautiful Eyes
I don't, really. My eyes are plain-Jane brown and so is my hair. I'm not crosseyed or anything so it's tough to say my eyes are ugly, just average, like my height. But almost every Ngäbe has dark brown eyes and they all look about the same, so I can see how a little diversity would be appealing (my eyes are brown, but much lighter than theirs).

However, intensely colored eyes seem to make them uncomfortable. My site-mate, Laura, has absolutely gorgeous eyes – an intense green blue – and people consistently ask her if they're real and generally seem a little put off. She wears glasses and they automatically associate the two, “Does the sun hurt your eyes? Do you wear glasses because of your blue eyes? Is it hard to see?”

So, at a light brown, my eyes are close enough to be comfortable and exotic enough to be attractive. I'll have to soak up the compliments while I can, before I return to America-the-melting-pot and a population with hazel and blue and green and gray.

3. I'm Hairy
Real men have chest hair
Don't think this is an advantage? Then you've never been with a hairy chested man – it's nothing short of a biblical experience, only sexier. And as the only man in the district with a hairy chest, I'd say this gives me a distinct advantage. If nothing else, I'll always look more like Sean Connery than anyone here.

There are inherent disadvantages, of course – being viewed as rich, sweating constantly, making babies cry just by walking into the room – but I choose to focus on the positive and try to enjoy my temporary inherent advantages while I can. These will probably be the only two years of my life where I'm tall, hairy and have beautiful eyes. Which is to say, the only two years where I am Sean Connery. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

24 Balsas

I discovered the Untouchable Rabbit Technique just in time. I began with the Scissor Technique and got pegged in the legs four out of the first five throws. After a quick calculation, I realized that if I maintained this ratio of dodging to getting pegged, I would end up getting pegged 19 times*. Gauging my overall toughness, I further decided that that would hurt a lot and I probably wouldn't be able to walk. On either leg. So I switched it up.

Getting pegged - pre Rabbit Technique
Last week, I went to my third and likely final balseria in a town two hours walking from my site. There, I did what I normally do at balserias, which is: watch people fight, watch people throw four foot balsa sticks at one another and accept extremely questionable containers full of fermented corn liquor (chicha fuerte). (I literally once drank chicha out of a kerosene bottle.)

I also decided to play again and found someone from the visiting town willing to throw (you can't play against someone from your own area). The guy I talked to turned out to be the 'Local Chief' of the visiting area, or a politician serving mostly as voice of the people. I proposed 10 throws each and he haggled me up to 24. And by 'haggled up,' I mean he said, “We should throw 24 instead” and I agreed because I didn't want to look like a wuss. That means I agreed to have 24 balsa sticks thrown at me and then throw 24 balsa sticks at someone else. The chicha fuerte may have had an impact on this decision.

This picture is so sweet - classic Rabbit Technique here
My other concern with the agreement was that the Chief appeared much more sober than I. This goes against my first rule of agreeing to have large sticks thrown at me, which is Do Not Play With Anyone Less Drunk Than I. Luckily, the Chief turned out to be only a facilitator in the process and chose a different balsero from his county to throw with me. And that dude was drunk.

My courage thus returned, I took the field and was almost immediately given a hat with a bunch of feathers sticking out of it. Awesome. So I danced and tried the Scissor dodge, which, as I mentioned, didn't work at all, and thus switched to the Untouchable Rabbit Technique.

My challenger - is it obvious he's been drinking?
This Technique involves jumping over the big stick that's being thrown at you. The advantage is that one is not allowed to throw above the knees, so if you can jump above knee level fast enough, you can only really get hit in the feet, if at all. The risk is that the other guy can just feint, wait for you to land and then drill your planted legs. Luckily, my companion was too inebriated to figure this out and I almost entirely dodged 20 straight throws.

My turn.

He seemed a little tired – most likely from being drunk for almost 20 straight hours (I don't know that for sure, but that's how they do) – so I decided not to give him much time between throws.

I kicked his ass. After twenty throws and a particularly solid peg, he was sitting on the ground and gave up. My first instinct was to yell, “KING KONG. AIN'T GOT SHIT. ON ME.” But that seemed a bit unsporting, so instead I shook his hand and accepted more questionable containers of chicha.
Cool hat huh?

So I have a new skill, but how to use it in the future? Today, one of my host moms told me about how balseria came to the Ngäbes: long ago, a wizard named Üro traveled to another dimension and learned the sport balseria, which he taught to the Ngäbes. I'm Üro, currently in another dimension but soon to return to show you white people how to throw sticks at each other.

So you better study up on your Rabbit Technique.

*Actually 19.2 for you sticklers out there, but I don't calculate fractions that quickly, especially after drinking several paint jars of fermented corn liquor.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

An article about 'The Hunger Games' on PolicyMic (I saw it in the theater in David):

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cow Patty Playoffs

We have to call timeout because there's a horse running wild in the field. This is the responsibility of the outfielders, so we run behind the horse yelling “YA!” and waving our gloves at it. It eventually runs into the woods and we can resume play in the Cow Patty League (CPL).

After a month of Sunday double-headers, my team is 11-8, which means we made the playoffs. I think we sometimes have an excellent team (relative to others in the CPL) and we're otherwise mediocre. A lot depends on the turnout, which drops drastically if we have to travel, which we had to do all but one week this month. Even more depends on whether our One Good Pitcher shows up. He's won every game he's pitched, whereas our cabal of other mediocre pitchers are, well, mediocre.

Despite my experience, each week has a new 'you're playing organized baseball in the middle of nowhere' surprise. Last week, as left fielder, I had to chase a ball through a barbed wire fence and recover it from underneath a rock that was underneath the stove in an outdoor kitchen. I suggested that, given the obstacles, the hit should have counted as a ground rule double, but my logic went unheeded and the batter easily scored an in-the-park home run.

I'm getting better at navigating outfields, which may contain: broken glass, large hills, boulders, small farm plots and/or hidden elevator shafts. They always contain large quantities of horse and cow poop.

My fielding is fine, but my batting has been inconsistent, bordering on bipolar. I feel bad for the coach, who started me in the seventh spot, then promoted me to second after a good game, then demoted me again to seventh when I struck out too much, then back up to second after I hit a gigantic triple and on like that each week. I'm like an elevator in the batting order. Overall though, I'd say I make a positive contribution, not to mention my extreme novelty value.

Today, a fan brought an empty tortoise shell, which can sort of be played like an instrument. I say sort of because it's a pretty boring instrument. Basically, you can tuck it under your arm and rub the ends of the shell to make a wooop sound. Having the shell around proved impossible to resist for the fans and bench players and someone was always playing it. As a result, the entire game was accompanied by a soft but incessant wooop wooop wooop wooop. At one point, I got the shell and played it like a little drum and someone immediately took it away from me and started woooping again. I think he might have been offended that I held the shell without woooping it.

The other consistent presence in this game, fittingly, were the cows just behind the center field barbed wire fence. They moved in early in the day to stand beneath some scrawny trees and the result made it seem like they moved in to get a better look at the game. Of course, the cows focused their entire collective energy on chewing and thus it was difficult to tell which team they were supporting, but I think I might have heard some moos of encouragement.

If we go deep into the playoffs, we'll have another full month of baseball, which will be nice. Hopefully my bipolar batting evens out a little and our One Good Pitcher shows up to every game. But then, I guess inconsistency is the only consistent part of the Cow Patty League and that's what's so fun about it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

You Can Legitimately Blame the Heat

I once read a theory basically stating that Europeans went on to develop faster and take over the world because it is cold in Europe and hot in countries near the equator. I loved the theory because it was almost offensively simple: cold kills and to survive it requires creative adaptation. So Europeans were either freezing to death or inventing better tools, while tropical folk, in the intense heat, spent time trying to move as little as possible.

I'm now promoting that theory from Conjecture to Absolute Certainty status. The past few months have been dry and sunny and really windy. With the wind, this made for a pleasant combination. The wind has since dissipated and the result is oppressive heat. Daaaaammmnnn is it hot out. It's hot by 8am. 8am! That's not even fair. The sun rises at 6am, which means even if you wake up at dawn, you only get two hours of light and reasonable temperature before you spend every other moment fantasizing about lying face down in a pool of ice.

I can't move. After breakfast, I try to mentally rally myself to go follow up on my community projects and seven hours later, I'm still in my hammock, still sweating and still wishing I had the wherewithal to stand up. I hesitate to go pee because that requires standing and walking, which requires movement. The only thing stopping me from peeing myself is that pee is notoriously warm.

This is why God sent his only son, Air-Conditioning, to relieve us of our sinful, heat-induced lethargy.

Thing is, I get paid whether or not I sit in this hammock, so there isn't much external pressure on me to get up. Money buys food, which covers my basic necessities, which makes all other efforts, essentially, unnecessary. Looking at my yard, I can see the banana trees, without any human aid, producing yellow and green bananas. Breakfast and dinner.

Seriously though, that theory I mentioned talked about the abundance of nutrient-rich foods in tropical Africa, which were easy to gather and grew all by themselves. So if it's Africa and it's hot and you've got breakfast and dinner growing in your yard, why in hell would you expend energy to make a spear or build a better house?

Throughout my service, my American upbringing has consistently rallied against the slow pace of life and the absolute disregard for punctuality and professionalism. I mentally whip myself for not being 'productive' enough.

Lately, my inner American has tried, each day, to bust out of me and force me to do something, only to encounter a wall of lethargic heat and melt back inside. After two hours of reading in my hammock, my guilt-induced motivation will return and I will resolutely put the book down, stand up and put on a shirt in preparation for leaving the house and being 'productive.' Then I will realize how hot it is to have a shirt on, remove it and sit back down in my hammock to rest and cool off from the outburst of activity.

During the rainy season, I would sit in the same hammock and stare at the wall of rain outside of my house. There was no point in braving the rain, because no one else would be braving the rain. On those days, I would reassure my inner American that I would make up for this lack of work once we reached the dry season. Now, I tell myself that I will do all those things I intend to do once the rain is back and it's a little cooler.

Do you see a problem? I guarantee you that even with my higher education and white guilt and ingrained drive to 'be productive,' if I continued living in a tropical place without air-conditioning, I would never accomplish anything. I would definitely never build a boat, let alone a warship and if you suggested that hairy white devils were coming to conquer me, I'd probably still be in my hammock when they arrived, fantasizing about ice-baths.

In short, that theory, whatever it's called, is spot on. I don't know why it isn't more widely known. I can't even remember the name of it but I'd give it even weighting with the Theory of Gravity, in terms of truthfulness. Because, as a hairy, white, hot descendent of those cold, scrambling, innovating Europeans, I'm telling you that down here you can legitimately blame the heat.