Friday, October 12, 2007


Day 15
Weight: 223 lbs.
Food Intake:
  • Breakfast:
    • small cup of pineapple juice
    • 2 buckwheat pancakes with honey
  • Lunch:
    • tall glass of orange juice
    • Pan seared jumbo scallops served atop a bed of roasted butternut squash ravioli tossed with tomatoes, garlic mushrooms and roasted tomato cream sauce
    • 2 small slices of buttered bread
  • Dinner:
    • small cup of pineapple juice
    • stewed squash
    • cooked okra
    • 2 pieces of corn on the cob
    • a banana

Didn't sleep much last night again. Deep in the night, every sound, every rustle, every creak and groan of tree is magnified. I woke up about every two hours wondering if I would be surrounded by angry natives with spears. I finally went to sleep when I figured they'd just kill me in my sleep and I'd wake up in heaven.

This morning started as any other, but little did I know just how much a single footprint could change my world by nightfall. I'd pounded the buckwheat into flour and used it to make pancakes. I used the rest of my honey as syrup and drank a small cup of pineapple juice. I felt strong, I felt satisfied, and I fell fast asleep.

I woke up to silence, and faces. There were 6 men standing in a semicircle. They were all dressed the same and each carried a walking stick. Their arms were bare and muscled (even the older ones). Those sticks weren't deadwood canes, but looked like they'd been carved from the center of palm trees each having a different heavy carving on top (either for holding or smashing -- probably both). One of them was gesturing toward the oven I was almost finished building with the bricks from the ruined farmhouse. Had I violated one of their holy sites? Were they talking about smashing me with the bricks? I did not understand the language, although from time to time one of the words would sound familiar to me.

I sat up slowly in my hammock. All of their eyes were on me. Poker faces one and all. I could not tell if they meant me harm or not. I noticed all muscles and grips tighten on their walking sticks. Not knowing anything better to do, I slowly stood up and extended my closed palms downward in front of me. Then raising and opening my palms, I said, "Greetings." in as gentle and confident voice as I could muster. They looked at one another and said a few things that I did not understand. Then they began walking away in a manner that indicated they wanted me to walk with them. Two were in front of me, one on each side, and two behind. I walked with them feeling much like a prisoner. I glanced back at the camp as we were crossing the meadow and saw that it was swarming with natives. They were dismantling my brick oven and stacking the bricks on my sled.

The walk through the jungle was long. No one spoke. There were log bridges to cross and time to think. They were dismantling the oven. Surely that meant I had violated one of their laws by taking those bricks. I began wondering about their system of justice. These people reminded me of what I would think Mayan natives would look like. I didn't know very much about the Mayans, but I knew enough about the Aztecs to know that cruel and unusual would be a great understatement.

Eventually we arrived at a village. It was much larger than I imagined it would be. I looked around for signs of civilization: cars, power lines, cell phones, t-shirts, iPods. I saw none of these things. Not even so much as a wristwatch or other piece of jewelry or clothing that I could recognize as being made in a factory. While part of me feared retribution, another part of me expected the American Ambassador for this place to greet me and put me on a helicopter home. It was beginning to look like the former was more likely.

Everyone in the village was standing still watching. There were women, children, teens, men. It appears that I was the main event. Everyone was silent. They walked me to an elevated platform. It looked like it might have had a clay floor once but now was covered in mostly sand. Once on the platform, my escorts took up positions behind me. One of them walked out in front of me and began speaking to the villagers. He gestured at me with his hands and made sweeping motions toward the sea. He pointed at a half-finished mud brick structure in the village. About this time, a group of young men came running up with my sled full of the mud bricks from my oven. They were neatly stacked. They laid the sled on the ground in front of the man speaking. He began to gesture at the bricks and at me. Although it was looking really bad for me, I gave it my best Sean Connery face and a look of supreme confidence.

The man who had been talking then came up and took my hands. He led me over to the bricks and placed my hands on the bricks. Then he seemed frustrated a little that I did not understand. He started shouting orders at various villagers in the crowd. In turn they each ran off with purpose. When they came back each had a primitive tool of some sort. There was one who brought some corn, a pestle and mortar, and some flour. One brought some seeds, a homemade digging device, and some plants. Another brought vines and a basket. In each case, the man who was doing all the talking gestured at the raw materials, then the villager, then the finished product. Oh! Everyone here has a job. Every job is important to the village. Then he gestured at the stack of mud bricks, then the half-finshed brick building (looked like a storage building of some kind). Then he made a shrugging gesture with arms wide. He called out. He made a sweeping motion with his arms to the sea. No one responded. They must have lost their bricklayer to the ocean during a storm. They think I'm a bricklayer. They need a bricklayer. They need me. I picked up a brick from the stack and walked over and placed it on the half-finished building. There was a collective sigh of relief from the villagers. This is what they wanted all along. I had a new family.

Suddenly a gong sounded. They all began talking and many of them ran here and there. I was led into a large courtyard where a table had been set. There was a lot of food here, prepared in ways I'd never seen before. They sat with me at the table and we had seared jumbo scallops served atop a bed of roasted butternut squash ravioli tossed with tomatoes, garlic mushrooms and roasted tomato cream sauce. And to wash it down a large container of orange juice. Now everyone was talking. It was like a big family reunion. I couldn't understand much of it but they all seemed happy. I couldn't help but notice that the sticks were stacked neatly outside. No one carried them in here.

After the meal, they led me to a small hut and showed me inside. There were bricklaying tools all around. This must have been where their bricklayer lived, and now it was my new home. I saw nothing at all modern in the hut. But there were many little hand-made devices for squaring and leveling. The hut had a clay smell about it.

I spent the afternoon walking around the village looking at everything. Everyone was so busy. All seemed to have a specific purpose. Even the children were helping in whatever their parents were doing. There were some people making baskets, others making furniture, others preparing food, some making clay pots, others carrying things here and there. What a marvelous society.

At sunset the gong sounded again and everyone went into the courtyard where dinner was on the table. We had boiled corn, fried okra, and stewed squash. There was also plenty of pineapple juice for all. I found it funny how that on this far away tropical island, except for the pineapple juice, these meals were not much different from the meals I was raised on back home in Western North Carolina. It was like one big family. No one looked starving, no one looked diseased. As darkness fell many of the younger villagers began dancing around a large bonfire, which had been lit in an area prepared for that purpose between the courtyard and the sea. I could tell that we were high above the ocean now, looking out over the valley from a high plateau or cliff.

I think I will like this place.

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