About me and this blog

I was born on a native reserve in Ontario, grew up on the west coast of Vancouver Island (as far west as you can go without running out of Canada), came of age in Mexico City. Between times, I lived in the Fraser Valley, Texas, Seattle, Oklahoma, Bella Coola, on the BC north coast, and the Fraser River Delta, just south of Vancouver. For now, I'm "settled" in Campbell River, on Vancouver Island.

I have a boatload of stories to tell. These are some of them.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pocketful of Posies: Days 11 to 13

Days 11 to 13: The road back.

(Day 1, here)

The dogs' barking woke me long before dawn. They echoed all around us in the dark, and I was frightened at first, until I was able to distinguish between them and estimate distances. Over on the hillside, a pack kept up a shrill yammering. Closer in, below us in the ruined city, the voices were more isolated. One howled, and the others picked up the chorus. A burro brayed, close by.

Raquel and I were sleeping side by side at one end of our campsite, for propriety's sake. The men were out of sight, beyond the car. I could hear them talking, and after a few minutes George came over.

"Get up," he said. We're leaving. Now."

We were well out of the Managua basin when the sun rose. We stopped for breakfast by the side of the road. Just the perfect place, Carlos said. Far enough out of the city for fugitives to feel safe, close enough for them to have walked here. They must be all around us, sleeping in the fields. A perfect place for us to distribute the rest of our food; there wasn't much left, but it made no sense to carry it home.

"But there's nobody around," I said. "How will anybody know we're here?"

"We'll just sit here. They'll show up."

While we waited, Carlos opened the tailgate and arranged the foodstuffs on it, with a couple of cups to scoop out powdered milk and rice. Then he crawled back to delve into his duffel bag, and brought out a handful of multi-coloured plastic gloves.

"What are those for?" Raquel asked.

"For explaining the gospel. I'll show you." He put a glove on his left hand, held it up. Each finger was a different colour, and on the palm was written, "God loves you." Carlos pointed to the thumb. "It's black," he said. "That helps you to explain that our hearts are black with sin. Next is red, for the blood of Christ. You keep pointing to it, while you tell about the crucifixion, and how Jesus' blood washes us clean. That's the next finger; white. And the fourth is yellow, for gold. The streets of gold, you know?"

"And the little finger, why is it green?"

"Green is for growth. That's for after you have prayed with the person, and they have accepted Jesus. Then you can teach them that they are babies in Christ, and need to read their Bible and pray every day so that they can grow.

"What we'll do, one of us will dole out food, and the others will talk to the people that show up." He handed each one of us a glove.

I gave mine back. "I'll work on the food," I said. I went to the back of the station wagon and read the label on a powdered milk can. Half a cup would make one litre; we had enough for 50 to 60 litres. I decided I would give every person that came one cupful. If anyone showed up, that was.

When I looked up, the others had decided on stations; Paco and George at the front and rear on the driver's side of the car, Raquel and Carlos on the right. They would be able to speak to four people at once, without interference. Carlos had his Bible open on the engine hood, and was drilling Raquel in the use of the glove. A woman was walking across the field, heading our way.

We got busy soon after that; the first woman was joined by a couple of children, then a trickle of families. Soon we were surrounded. I counted out oranges, ladled powdered milk into cups and recycled cans. Someone had passed on the news, with the instruction; "Bring your own container." The last pair of kids got only an almost-empty milk can. The little girl hugged it tightly with both arms as she walked back across the field.

As soon as the food was gone, people stopped coming. I left the empty orange crate by the side of the road and closed the tailgate. Carlos finished his last recounting of the glove -- with the yellow finger, I noticed -- and the man he had been talking to took the crate and escaped. We got into the car and drove away from there.

Carlos was bubbling over. "We must have talked to 40 people!" he said. "Maybe 50! They all heard the gospel, maybe for the first time!"

"Did anybody pray with you?" Paco asked.

"No. You?"

Paco shook his head. In the front seat, Raquel turned to face us. "Nobody." George was driving; he gave no sign that he had heard the question.

Carlos' enthusiasm wasn't easily dampened. "It doesn't matter," he said. "God's word is never preached in vain. He's promised that.

Besides, we are not responsible for the results of what we do; we did what God told us and that's what counts."

He leafed through his Bible. "Look what Paul says about it," he said. He started to read. I stopped listening. I was thinking of the girl with the milk can and wondering what she would do for milk tomorrow.


The rest of the trip back to Mexico was uneventful. Our empty station wagon breezed through customs. We crossed the worst of the war zone in daylight, so we drove through the night, Carlos and George rotating every four hours or so. We picked up the boys in Guatemala City and drove on immediately. No shopping, no side-trips.

In the evening of the first day we heard on the radio that there had been a small after-shock that morning in Managua. "I knew it!" Carlos said. Once again, God had led us, getting us out of the city on time.

The radio announcer said that there were no fatalities, no new damage. Still, there could have been.

I was glad we were making good time. George had abandoned all pretense of politeness towards Carlos, refusing to speak to him, and occasionally fixing him with an angry glare. While he drove, he talked only to Raquel. The rest of the time, he slept, or pretended to be asleep. I was embarrassed for him; as a minister, he was supposed to be the spiritual leader.

I tried to cover up by keeping a conversation going in the back seat, but we were always falling into awkward silences. It was easier once we'd picked up my boys; Marcos and James maintained a constant chatter.

Something he ate had disagreed with Paco. By the time we got to the Mexican border, we were having to stop every little while for him to be sick. Raquel fussed over him, helping him to wash up, asking every few minutes, "Are you feeling better yet, Paco?"

The answer was always, "No." As soon as we reached a decent-sized town in Mexico, Raquel insisted that we take Paco to the doctor.

We found a clinic just off the town plaza. The waiting room was a long hallway with a few wooden benches along one wall. Every seat was taken, but a woman shooed her kid off, to let Paco sit down. Raquel knelt beside him on the floor. "Hold on, Paco. We'll have you fixed up soon," she said. Carlos went to talk to the receptionist.

It was too hot to wait in the car, so George and I stood just outside the doorway, where the overhang made a few inches of shade. The boys played in the cobblestoned street. A man leaning against the wall a few metres away pushed himself upright and came to meet us.

"Buenas tardes," he said, extending a hand. "Pablo Jimenez, at your service. Are you new in town, or just passing through?"

"On our way to Mexico City, coming from Nicaragua." George answered. Which led into a discussion of what we had been doing there, and why. Within minutes, Sr. Jimenez had identified himself an a Jehovah's Witness, and we had embarked on a heated discussion of the Trinity. Jimenez proved to be well-trained, and I was relieved to see George revert to his normal self, eyes bright, hands waving, voice persuasive, as he launched himself into an explanation of the intricacies of Greek articles in the Gospel of John.

I hardly noticed when Carlos joined us. He listened for a while, then went to the car and came back carrying his Bible. When George paused for breath, Carlos stepped forward. "Look," he said to Sr. Jimenez, "I have it right here, in my Bible. The Spanish, and a Greek dictionary in back. See?" He held the Bible out, pages flapping.

George let Carlos take over the conversation, and after a few minutes went over to the car himself. He rummaged through the back, then waved me over. "Where's my Bible?" he called.

It was just an excuse. As soon as I was close enough, he said, "What's gotten into you? I've been watching you; you're flirting with Carlos."


"Yes! And I won't have it, you hear?" He grabbed my arm, dug his fingers into the muscle. "Be careful! I'm watching you." He shook me once, released me, and picked up his Bible -- it was there on the seat all the time.

We went back to the shade, but George made no effort to reclaim the conversation. I was careful not to smile, not to look in Carlos' direction. When Paco and Raquel came out of the clinic and we went back to the car, George said to me, "You're sitting up front. Raquel can sit in back with Paco."

It was a long, miserable afternoon. Marcos and James sat in the back, and every time I spoke to them, I had to make sure I turned my head to the right, so as to avoid any appearance of looking at Carlos. We stopped for supper somewhere. George joked with the waitress, and with our boys. He refused to speak to anyone else. We drove on, in silence. The boys went to sleep.

"Talk to me, Susana. Keep me awake," George said. He had been driving all afternoon and evening; Carlos hadn't offered to take his turn.

I talked. About what, I don't know. Anything that sounded cheerful and harmless. George barely answered. I fiddled with the radio, and once we had crossed the mountains, I picked up George's favourite station. The music gave me an excuse to stop talking.

In Mexico City, we dropped Carlos and Paco off, wordlessly. I shook hands with Paco, and pretended not to see Carlos. We drove on. 40 miles left to go. Raquel dozed in the back seat.

The radio station went off the air, and I found another, playing American music. I remember a woman singing, "Fever." Later there was a new song, one I hadn't heard before. I didn't get all the words, but the chorus was repeated over and over. "Strumming my pain with his fingers, Singing my life with his words, Killing me softly with his song, Killing me softly..." The highway stretched in front of us, four empty lanes, the dotted line coming up smoothly to meet our headlights, the mountains black on either side.

We drove down into Toluca, along the sleepy streets. Raquel woke and got out at her house. Her parents bundled our girls into the back seat. We took them home.

The next Sunday George preached about the Christmas Eve earthquake, about the need to be ready at any moment to meet God.

I never saw Raquel again. She stopped coming to church, and dropped out of Bible Study. In Guatemala City, the next earthquake toppled the house where we had left my boys into the ravine.

Stories of Mexico: Non-fiction
©Susannah Anderson, 2001

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