Notes From My Journal: I made it out… barely
In 1948, Shortly after their wedding, my parents moved to from Washington, DC, to Guatemala City to begin their married lives. They’d barely settled in when a long-simmering revolution boiled over and there was war in the streets of their adopted city. Their apartment building was shelled. My father baptized Denise, my older sister, under the kitchen table.
As a child, I loved hearing that story. What an exciting way to start a marriage, I thought. And wouldn’t you know it? K and I began our marriage in similar circumstances. I had been teaching at the University of Chad as a Peace Corps volunteer for 9 months. K had been living in her hometown in Long Island. After nine months of separation, we decided to get married. We flew to Paris, took a week-long pre-nuptial honeymoon, flew back to N’djamena, and got married at the mayor’s office, along with 13 other couples. K was the only woman married without a dowry that day. (You could feel the disapproval.)
That very evening, an assault broke out in the president’s compound, which was perhaps two hundred yards from our apartment building.
Grenades exploding. Tracers lighting up the dark sky. The metallic spattering of machine gun fire. We were frightened at first. But after a while, we realized that the fighting wasn’t going to get any closer. Eventually, neighbors came over to watch the action with us. One brought a bottle of Johnny Walker Red. (JWR was as common there as Coca Cola.) And our moods brightened even as the chaos continued through the night.
Back then, being a foreigner – and particularly a white American – in Africa gave me the feeling that I was somewhat immune to the physical dangers of a local war. Killing the natives was part of – no, it was the idea of – the game. But killing a foreigner? And an American at that? That would have been playing with fire.
I’ve had the same feeling of immunity this week in Nicaragua. The kill count is said to be up to about 100, with thousands injured and some number missing. But I felt that if I had to return by car to Managua, my chances of getting through safely were good.
At least that’s how I felt yesterday.
Then this morning, I heard that an American was killed. But hold on. He wasn’t white. Not exactly. He had dual citizenship: American and something else. Something less protected. Something Latin American.
I’ve been talking to everyone I meet about what’s going on here. I want to try to understand the potential for the situation to escalate and get a sense of how long it might last. And although Rancho Santana is out of the action (for now, at least), the trouble has been spreading: from Managua to Masaya to Granada and then Leon. Last night, there were reports of gunfire in Rivas, the nearest city to Rancho Santana, about a half-hour away.
I haven’t met anyone that is panicking. Our employees are worried but not terribly. At the request of the resort’s managing director, I threw a cocktail party at my house last night. The idea was to show my face and, therefore, somehow lift the morale of the workers and my fellow homeowners. I’m not sure my face had any positive impact, but the event was a success. If, that is, one measures the success of a cocktail party by the number of people that came (60, which is about 80% of the workers/homeowners that were at the resort), by the bottles of booze that were emptied (22), or by how late the last straggler stayed. (He never left. He was still there this morning.)
One thing I’ve learned from this experience: Though you may be able to accurately judge the level of the danger you are in at any moment, you cannot know how quickly the violence might escalate and spread. That’s no doubt why, in almost every armed insurrection, a portion of those that could leave never do.
There were two small prop planes at Esmeralda airport offering rides for 20 passengers. Nearly 30 people were waiting to board, which means that 10 didn’t make it. I did, and so did another 10 folks that had been staying at Rancho Santana. I expect more will be leaving soon.
Today’s Word: tippler (noun)
A tippler (TIP-uh-lur) is a person who drinks liquor regularly, usually socially and in small amounts. As used by Emily Dickinson:
Inebriate of air am I
And debauchee of dew
Reeling, through endless summer days,
From inns of moulten blue.
Till seraphs swing their snowy hats,
And saints to windows run,
To see the little tippler
Leaning against the sun!
Every five days, the sun provides the earth with as much energy as all proven supplies of oil, coal, and natural gas. If humanity could capture just 1/6000 of the available solar energy, we’d be able to meet 100% of our energy needs.
From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket
“Hey… I’m Just Saying”
There’s an episode of Seinfeld about what you can get away with saying to people so long as you append your statement with, “Hey… I’m just saying.” (You might have seen it fairly recently in re-runs.)
“Don’t you think those pants make your butt look a little chubby?”
“Hey… I’m just saying.”
Seinfeld doesn’t tell jokes, but he’s funny. He’s funny because he sees the ironies in life and is smart enough to get a laugh out of them.
I’ve said a lot of things that have provoked indignation, and I’m often surprised when that happens. “Hey,” I want to say. “What’s the big deal? I’m just saying.”
Still, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that some people – even some very smart people – have that reaction. They have committed themselves to ideas that they take very seriously. And when those ideas are challenged, they don’t like it.
I should understand that. But I don’t know. It’s just so much fun to make them feel a little bit uncomfortable.
And anyway…I’m just saying…