Do not take this blog seriously, and don't drive and read!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Blissful Times of Fake Peace Corps Memories

           I graduated high school when I was seventeen. It’s not because I was any smarter than anyone else. It’s because I was born under the wrong sign of the Zodiac.  Had I been born a month earlier, I would have been “big man on campus.” After all, I would have been driving to school as a sophomore like most others in my class. But so go the cosmos and the stars that align and the uncontrollable universe that makes up who you are and who you will become as you go prodding along proudly gaining the knowledge of a steadfast student of life. It’s an imagination beyond the truth that lies hidden beneath your fake journal to guide you through your intrepid encounters with the oddballs (famous and infamous) in life you will meet who will shape your character or lack there of and all that is to become steadfastly replacing the innocence of youthful exuberance. I say all that to say this; I was never fooled by curveballs in baseball and life has certainly thrown some sliders at me, but I’ve taken it all in stride and lived one heck of a journey.
            Let’s talk about it. I feel so dirty… like you are reading my personal journal and yet I shouldn’t worry… for I have led an average life just like anyone else who is 40 years old.
            It may seem I was an oddball of my generation when as a Gen-X’er I joined the Peace Corps in 1988.  While the other “dudes" were on their way to college and enjoying the scenery of “bleach blond” “big” hair down at the mall, I was off to a place called Esquipulas, Guatemala.  There’s some good fishing down there in between the bouts with malaria.
            The town sits right on the border of Honduras and El Salvador.  Doesn’t it sound like an ideal vacation spot for a 17 year old Tennessee kid who has never seen cocaine nor does he realize where it comes from?  Yep… now you, the reader, are nervous for my safety and I thank you. But Esquipulas, Guatemala in 1988, was a perfectly safe place to live. It was rich in religious heritage kind of like the Rome of the Western Hemisphere.  You know why? We had the “Black Jesus.”  Seriously, that’s why the town is famous the world over!
            Basilica of Esquipulas  houses the Shrine of the Cristo Negro (“Black Christ”). Founded by the Spaniards in the 1560’s, the image of the Black Christ dates back to March of 1595, when the Portuguese sculptor Quirio Cataño presented it to the city.  The mayor probably said, “neato”- in Portuguese, or Spanish or some language that was there long before the Spaniards. It’s basically a dark wooden image of the crucified Christ, AND it’s the most revered Catholic shrine in the region. There’s a pilgrimage site in El Salvador with another carving of the Black Christ, but my roots lie with the Shrine of the Cristo Negro at Esquipulas!
            You know why my skinny 6’6’’ frame felt comfortable in my new “two year” Peace Corps home of Esquipulas?  There was a treaty signed in Guatemala City in1987 that was called the Esquipulas Peace Agreement; thus bringing peace to that part of Central America. And if you lived back then you know that those were only peaceful gun battles between various drug cartels and the “covert ops” of the United States Government.
            We also had magic dirt to keep us safe. People even bathed in it. If you bath in Holy dirt, then you’re “invisible” like the Sioux at the battle of Little Big Horn. Everyone knows the town is famous for its Tierra Santa (Holy Earth) clay tablets. Everyone knows that!
            AND, that soil must be Holy because it is excellent for the economy. The local clay (dirt) is pressed into tablets (or clay cake) and sold to pilgrims; thousands who come from the U.S., Mexico, Europe, etc... every year. The clay is believed to be medicinal and the pilgrims will sometimes eat the clay and then rub it all over them. Pretty neat huh?
            So here’s the history. As far as Roman Catholic pilgrimage sites go in the Western Hemisphere, Esquipulas is closely tied to Chimayo, New Mexico in the good ‘ol US-of-A. The cathedral at Esquipulas was proclaimed a Basilica in 1961 by Pope John XXIII. That means its mucho importante’ especially when it’s deemed a “shrine” like the one at Esquipulas. There are basilicas that are built over Saints like St. Paul and St. Peter.             
            I too am the proud builder of a small, unfinished and as of yet, undesignated basilica near Nameless, Tennessee. I placed a stand of large limestone rocks over the grave of my beloved Saint Bernard. He too was a martyr when he chased a large yellow cat out of the path of an oncoming larger yellow bus.  Blacky, my loving white and tan Saint Bernard, was always thinking of God’s other creatures. In honor of Blacky’s heroics the yellow cat sat on the other side of the road kneeling as if to purr over the tragedy. The cat even cleaned itself bathing in a baptismal of saliva in remembrance of my Saint Bernard. 
            But I digress.  The largest basilica/church in Rome, Italy is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. So even though the Saints, Apostles and even Jesus himself never took a cruise over to modern day Guatemala, a Pope in 1961 recognized the value of sacred dirt transformed into an eatable clay (tablet cake) commodity. Pilgrims eat that stuff up!  It’s the same principle as a Hindu who recognizes the value of the vernacular “Holy cow!” 
            The reason I say all this is simply to inform you that I felt safe while serving in the Peace Corps. And I met some interesting folks down there near the equator… which, by the way, splits Ecuador into two parts- the equator that is, which is an imaginary line that runs through the country of Ecuador. We can’t see imaginary line but we know it's real because toilets flush backwards in Brazil and Australia (both below the imaginary line).  
            If the equator were a real boundary with signs there would be a north and south Ecuador.  Lord knows if that were the case, the United States would have to have some “kind of beef” with the poor Ecuadorian inhabitants.
            Logic and history tells us that there is always conflict between America and north and south whatever; be it Korea, Viet Nam, West Virginia- which happens to be NORTH-west of Virginia. We probably have some kind of treaty with Russia that the general public knows nothing about. There’s the northern moon and southern moon each with either a capitalist or communist economy planned for when settlement begins there. The realm of possibilities is unlimited when it comes to conflict. We humans have almost mastered engaging in unlimited conflict between nations. If not for the nation of Switzerland, we could all fight against one another in perfect harmony with unlimited destruction for all nations… bunch of Swiss marshmallows!
            My point is simple. The Peace Corps was a good time had by all. After meeting and falling in love with a Guatemalan drug lord’s daughter, her kind and gentle father informed me it was time to relieve myself of my duties with the Peace Corps. So I definitely relieved myself- on more than one occasion I might add.  I left a little piece of my heart in that foreign land and I almost left a little piece of my finger. There is no logic to this sorted story because common sense and good judgment played a larger role in my return to the states. The abrupt end!  - For now...

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