Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Quote On Forgiveness

"Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it." Mark Twain

Monday, October 24, 2011

Nicaragua: Innocence Lost

I’ve been avoiding this piece. Not able to find the words to convey, the experience I'd rather deny. On every journey, there is bound to be ugly bits, bleak and blue.

This has been the hardest yet.This is my Nicaragua.

We sample a fair share of the country, save Managua (the capital).  Leon, an intellectual hub that fueled the bloody ‘79 revolution; Granada, founded in 1524…one of the first places sacked and enslaved by the conquistadors. And lastly, a twin shaped island on Nicaragua’s largest lake…Isla de Ometepe (I later discover, raided over and over again by the english, french, dutch and spanish pirates)….each place we innocently dip our traveler’s toe, each place, discovering shadows still alive and vibrant...

You may say that it was history…the past long ago. Today, horse drawn carriages will take you on a romantic stroll along the colonial mansions that line the avenues. The ubiquitous bars on the Calle La Calzada and the reggaeton discos fill the air with merriment. Smooth bare-chested boys in glitter and wings. A bottle of rum for under $2. Fast love for sale under the dark lit square by cherry kissed women of the night.

I remember a friend telling us that Nicaragua was Costa Rica 30 years ago. So, I was excited and hopeful. I wish it were true, but it’s far from it. Don't be so easily swayed by cheap frills; find the soul and heart instead. There's so much you can discover by walking...leaving the comforts of the interior world of gated hotels with their manicured gardens. It has made all the difference. Life is still hard, the lines as deep as canyons on some of the faces. Unlike Costa Rica which was largely left untouched by war, Nicaragua is still healing from civil revolutions, economic collapse and then hit hard by hurricanes as recent as 2007. 

What is this funk you may ask? I'm not sure. But something is lost. Children, but no childhood. They ask with hard looks, whatever they can get a dime in spanish, english or italian. A policeman with the face of old bark, eyes sunken into skull, he shakes your hand only to tell you that he hasn’t eaten. Cattle, horses, dogs...their skin sagging on bones. You are told one thing only for it to mean another. A garden café, its bookshelf lined with every bit of western literature on sexual repression and the like. 

There are things best left unseen. 

An older expat, he's buying the souls of 2 young men in exchange for the cappuchinos he treats them to. A stranger, his body blocking passage…a school girl. Her head cast down like a trapped hare. A young hustler, steals a kiss from a waitress...his large hands paw at her face, her head leans away from his, eyes on shoes, she tells him she’s married.

There are things best left forgotten.

There’s a girl. She’s only 7. A man touches lines and corners where he ought not. Years later, she cannot forgive herself for letting it happen, even to this day. A moment that will forever shape her.

What would you say? How to heal? She is a country, a place…she is real.

How about...that there are good men in this world that will honor and protect you. May a thousand splendid suns bless you, cleanse and heal scarred parts of you. May you find peace to forget and perhaps forgive. May you thrive and flourish once again.

That is what I wish for Nicaragua.

8 days is the most I can handle. Even in the remote parts, on the island between 2 volcanoes, at a farm house overlooking forests and water, a speck of Costa Rica from afar, when we are offered, coconuts and green plantains in abundance, cut from the vine, a plate of fried lake fish made for us...I can only find lukewarmth. Grateful for the offering and the beautiful landscapes, I can't deny that my heart is cut out. Separated from the body. Unable to comprehend fully.

On the day we leave the country, at the border control, I sit in the car waiting at immigration.

He's shirtless with greasy hair. His eyes show that he's not entirely there. He leans on the hood. He touches it as if it was his. His arms rest on the car and he's waiting, his face studying the people on the sidewalk...and then mine. The language no longer matters. The body shakes, words yearning to be reclaimed. A whisper that deepens and growls...

Fuck off...You fucker! Fuck off! Get the fuck away! 

He doesn’t hear the words or bothers to look up to see the hysterical woman behind sunglasses...she feels exposed even though she's behind locked doors. Instead, something catches his attention in the bushes…a butterfly…a moth.

He turns around and walks away.

By Mai Brehaut

Jesus losing face in Leon.
a white horse on the way to lake cocibolca
an unlikely advertisement
horse drawn carriage
on the ferry to ometepe

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Crossing Water

I saw you crossing the water today, that part of the beach where it’s deep. Seeing you. You are a child again. Memories of summers in the gold lit kissed beaches of France. You raise your shorts to show knees. And I smile. Like the moment when you first opened the door welcoming me into your life, you made me laugh…and it scared me, how quickly and easily, it was to grow in love with you. I love you. My beloved. I will always remember, you crossing the water, coming toward me. And me, waiting to receive.

El Cuco, El Salvador

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On the Go: Miracles in Honduras

El Amatillo, El Salvador – Honduras Border

It’s scorching hot. By 11am, I wipe waterfalls from eyebrows and arms. The dogs pant with intense urgency. Biela gasps and chokes air. The sounds of her suffering are unbearable. I need to make a decision quick. Stay safely in the car-turned-oven or abandon ship with everything we possess to find shade.

Biela chokes again…my hand reaches for the door.

We stand in front of a house next to a small convenience store. I can’t imagine people living so closely to the border…a desperate place. I keep an eye on the car. A person stands in the way of our passage: the policia nacional.

3 hours at Honduras immigration. Every step is bogged down by quicksand…unnecessary procedures that call for copies upon copies of paperwork, fees and taxes to be paid, people upon people who need to validate and vulturize (keep in mind, we’re only passing through Honduras, our final destination is Nicaragua)…

The dogs and I are waiting on the side of the road because the cop who pulled us over finds a snag and faults the dog papers…a missing stamp or some lame excuse that can only be remedied by greenbacks. Cedric loses his temper in front of this excuse-for-a-man; he will not bribe…no notes will be pried from his fist. Biela stands on her hind legs, growls and watches her human as he’s led away by leeches. Her tail drops limp no longer able see his familiar golden hair from the crowd.

Biela in the back

Leeches or expeditors (aka tramitadors) lurk in bushes as far as a mile from the border awaiting ambush…capable of suctioning onto moving cars. A long line of freight carriers clog the path as you enter the border crossing…the point of hijack for these men and women…their friendly smiles lined with jubilant betrayal…for they will do everything in their power to make things longer and more complicated; the benefit of doing things by the book. They’re part of the whole circus: the cops, the paper pushers behind counters. Everyone gets a cut. How a leech makes his way into your circle happens in a matter of a blink. Like an old card trick. And the next thing you know, you’re led by a leech that clutches your original copy.

tango of the tramitadores

The cop… this excuse-for-a-man stands in the shade, drinking fizzy orange…a hand strokes the gun. I glare at him, unable to hide the fire behind my eyes.

I pour water into a bowl. Manly and Biela dip their tongues surrendering relief to the cool shade. People pass us; everyone glued to the new museum display…gestures made to comment on Manly’s muscles, Biela’s holy whiteness. A boy wearing nothing but his underwear (it’s that hot) passes us as he holds his baby sister. A baby carrying a baby. I tell him that the dogs are good…los perros son buenos.

Cedric comes back in a chariot (the health inspector’s pickup truck) with the endorsed pet documents. He’s ready for war, faces the excuse-for-a-man once again…a hand strokes the gun. Finally, a handshake, and a warning…no bribe this time, but there will be others not so lenient.

crossing the rio into honduras 

Indeed, only miles later, we get stopped. The heart flares. I pray. The cop lets us pass. Grateful, our smiles beam from ear to ear. The worst is behind. My head throbs from dehydration and fatigue starts to surface. I take a moment to recover my bearings; a quick meditation is just what I need to reclaim my energy (find the meditation at the end of the piece). Thankful, I take in the Honduran landscape, a messy jungle that neither sways nor welcomes.

We’re one hour into the drive…one more to go. We’re almost there.

A car stops in front of us. 2 traffic cops…an older man with stained teeth and a younger, arrogant version…they motion toward our direction. We pull off to the side.

Lasso lands on calf.

Within moments, Manly and Biela are tied up. Leashes hang like nooses around necks. Bags are searched. A small statue of Saraswati (the Goddess of knowledge, music and all things creative) is uncovered behind clothes and tossed back… bags are left unzipped and dissected.

From the rear view mirror, a drawn-out chess game. Cedric’s face is lowered; his will although strong is starting to waver. He throws his anger and frustration at them like a handful of stones. They’ve taken his driver’s license. We must pay a fine for traveling without dog crates. He will not bend. A third traffic cop squats over a broken cell phone, he uses a twig to prod the busted brain.

Passing the car, a man in handcuffs is being lead by another pair of cops, this time from the policia nacional. Armed with rifles, they take him to a tree. The situation looks grim.

The only thing I focus on is what I’m about to do. I imagine a white light directed at a heart. There are walls upon walls of black. I can’t seem to get to the core. I visualize the white light pouring into the heart of the man holding the driver’s license. I must try and reach it. I imagine the white light exploding and enveloping his heart. 

“Pasaporte!” The younger traffic cop comes to me looking for leverage.

I shake my head; I play dumb. I’ve hidden our passports under my seat.


I shake again and again. You will not take my power.

“Where are you from? You can’t talk?”

He looks at Cedric and demands the answer.

“She’s from the US like me. She doesn’t speak Spanish.” A lie used to protect.

It looks pretty bad from where I sit. We’re in the middle of nowhere. Nothing prevents these men…traffic cop or national…they all seem corrupt…nothing prevents them from harming us. Is there hope for the right thing to still occur? And then. A miracle.

The permit is handed back and we’re allowed to go.

Cedric tells me later as we drive away that he tried to thank the older cop. A handshake turned midway into a brief touch…as if to show, I don’t deserve it. I’ve given up a long time ago.

I’m so relieved and exhausted. So grateful to drive away.

We reach the border, all too ready to leave Honduras forever. Before we can enter the immigration checkpoint, we’re told to pull over. Driver’s license gets taken. This time the issue is with a missing car registration document.

It’s 3pm. We started the journey at 6:20am…over 3 hours dealing with Honduran immigration just to drive through this damn country, another 2 hours driving only to be pulled over twice by rat-faced, bribe-seeking, good-for-nothing cops…and now, for the record, a 3rd time to test the theory…

Cedric leaves my side for battle. Amidst all the lies, the manipulation, the sheer bullshit…I’m in awe of my husband’s patience, his eloquence, his resolve, his will that is straight as an archer’s arrow…it will not bend, his strength and his crescent kicks ready to break bones. I’m married to one badass motherfucker… a warrior of light.

mr badass himself

Like shaking out an old purse, looking for the last speck of gold, I reach for what I have left and I give it to my Love. I pour the light into his heart, to keep him strong and protected. And then the cop. Again, walls upon walls of darkness…a black hole. I visualize the light pouring into his. My last attempt. 

Cedric comes back to the car. A look of a trapped bird…a look that only says, brace yourself.


Guasaule Honduras - Nicaragua Border

Behind the window, I wait for my passport. Minutes to an hour. I have nothing left. Nothing. Numb to the experiences that has been emotionally and physically draining. I’m angry, so angry I want to cry. But grateful. Exhausted. Pounded over and over by large waves. Empty. Forsaken.

“Amor…” I look over to a woman holding cold drinks.

“Would you like something to drink?” She winks. My eyes moisten.

I remember the ladies who wished us a safe journey as we stood in line this morning leaving El Amatillo, El Salvador. I feel the gentle touch of a hand extended on my shoulder. The man who drew  the map on sand showing us the way. The people at La Tortuga who waved us goodbye. The man who filled our tank to the brim so we wouldn’t need to stop for gas. The folks who smiled, throughout the day. Angels.

When I ask my Love what happened with the last cop and the words used to make the final plea...when hope was kissed away, as a captain bids farewell to his sinking ship, it was simply…

“I know you are a good man and you want to do the right thing.”

Light hits target. Miracles do happen.

By Mai Brehaut


Reclaiming Your Energy Meditation

Sit in a quiet place. Take several deep breaths. Imagine a bright sun over your head. Visualize what has taken your energy, attention or focus away from you (people, projects, objects). Visualize a magnet in the center of the sun pulling the energy back into the sun. Visualize the sun getter bigger and bigger, cleansing and purifying the energy. Now visualize a hole on the top of your head. See the sun pouring down a stream of light inside the hole, starting from the bottom of your toes, belly, shoulders, neck until it fills your entire body. Let it flow out and around your body. Thank your sun and send it away until you need to call it again.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish Albert

Every morning, Albert makes a break for it. [At least that’s how I imagine it.] He cruises past the eco-shag, beach cabanas…la di da di da…waddles to the expansive stretch of white sand beach, spreads his feet on the welcoming bath water and allows the waves to gently drift him away. The owner of the hotel, Albert’s american sugar daddy, glances at one of his staff, does one of those gangsta mafia gestures, two fingers on the eyes, points to unsuspecting Albert…watch him!

One day, Albert makes it as far as the private homes on the southern strip of playa el cuco…he’s so far away, human eyes can no longer reach him. And that’s when I’m secretly hopeful of a successful escape.

But minutes later, he’s carried back to the hotel. One hand clutches his beak, the other, his gimp wing. He’s hauled back like a cheap handbag…no longer able to soar on the salty winds like he once did…the cost of an amputated wing.

I can’t fault him for the trade he made. Pelican got to eat. Fish cost money. Now Albert lives in a hotel, he’s on television…another line of work by the american sugar daddy [an ex-new yorker, out to seriously educate the world on the protection of turtle eggs by rifle bearing vigilante he hires to guard any egg hatching activity on the hotel premise…]

Albert, man. I don’t fault you. It’s one sweet gig you got. But I still hope that one day, those lumpy wings still have something left in them...that you're hungry enough to take one more risk, to dare flap foolishly...way up high above where your heart longs to be.

Dedicated to the memory of Steve Jobs.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

On the Go: Guatemala/El Salvador

The Pan American Highway, 2 hours from El Salvador

He stands like a David…Michelango’s David. Long arms hang forth from broad shoulders. The white shirt flaps from every corner, like a sheet on a line before an afternoon storm. The pick-up truck weaves fast and overtakes ours. An emergency looms on the horizon waiting to make its debut.

The hand, once small, made from a mama and a papa, now holds the world at its mercy…what do the lines of the palm foretell? The answer: a silver gun manufactured to grip it.

The oldest poetry of war is being retold. Take from those who carry their livelihood hidden inside backpacks and sacks of corn. Take from those who fear, who have everything to lose.

“When the pirates came to raid the boat,” my mother begins her personal legend, “they took everything they could find…jewelry, gold…people.”

“A woman sitting next to me, she carried a statue of quan am, the vietnamese, buddhist god, the protector. We all prayed for our lives, for quan am to save us.”

And now, for the first time on our journey, I pray and I pray hard that nothing will come to harm. I imagine what my mother saw. Did they carry guns or knives? Were these thai men young or old? What did they smell like?

I can still see the sculpted hand and the silver gun. The image sticks annoyingly naked. Like a glitch on the screen that loops…yearning for a hard knock.


The Toilets: San Cristobal, Guatemala/El Salvador Border 

There’s a loud shush, the sound made when reprimanding dogs. I look over, a baby attached to a brown breast. I need to pay. Wait a second, did she just shush me like a dog?

My bathroom experiences in central america, are less traumatic, more efficient. No toilet seat, no locks, no toilet paper…no problem. There are large blue buckets filled with water with a cup…the famous el salvadorean flushing system. A process I’m not familiar with: take water, fill the tank, flush.

You have to pay she barks. There are now 2 girls, her proxies coming to collect. But their curiosity and shyness easily betray them. I ask how much, knowing too well the game. They stammer something that sounds like 3 quetzales. I pretend not to understand. Was that 1, I say? The final answer comes back from big mama herself…it’s 2 quetzales. Pay up bitch!

Toilet charges are customary but the border towns are the worse…a mix of desperation with a graceless sense of entitlement. I can easily walk away, but out of some guilt-ridden reason, I owe this woman compensation. I wave a 5 quezales bill. She walks over, standing 4’10…burdened by her sex, burdened by her lot in the universe…and now me, who’s used her toilets but who would rather not deal and run away. Inside her cigar box, her livelihood is exposed. A five-dollar bill among a handful of coins that yearn to be seashells on deserted beaches. Finally, she unloads a carefully counted mound squarely in my hand, the complicated change made for the 25 cents I pay. Like a spider, she retreats back to her quiet corner, reattaches baby and gets ready to take on the next person who finds themselves tangled in her toilets.


Migration: San Cristobal, Guatemala/El Salvador Border

He wears black loafers…the type that look like they need to be worn indoors. Shoes that remind me of a slimy CEO, I once worked for. We don’t need his rescue, but for some reason, perhaps, the long 9 hours on the road from Lake Atitlan, the rush to cross before nightfall, the boy takes the expeditor (tramitador) up on his offer. He helps us with our immigration papers in exchange for tips. He immediately becomes part of our pack as soon the border guard tells us to park the car. He recites the VIN numbers off to the Guatemalan customs officer; he helps unpeel the Guatemalan car permit; shows us how to correctly place it on the vehicle form. He takes the only copy of the dog’s health papers to get them stamped. The belly twists and aches as soon as he insists that we need to itemize our laptops, guitars, everything…a tactic to delay, make things more complicated than they are.

I’m worried and anxious. I don't fully trust this person but the alternatives are fruitless. It’s already 5:30pm and the light is quickly disappearing. We have another 2 hours until we reach our destination in El Salvador (Playa El Tunco).

The expeditor seduces the local women who walk by with a smooth smile; he's a hunk by any school standard. He carefully preens over his shirt to make sure it's perfectly white. For a split second, another face emerges…constrained, heavy. But the smile quickly waxes back on as the boy comes closer with another question.

As the final step, I see him run ahead of us with both passports. Our life in his hands. 


El Tunco, El Salvador

Upstairs at a beachfront restaurant, we order large liters of cold beer. It’s been a long day. 11 hours on the road. We’re among college students and folk who have come to party in this surf town. There are two young women…trolling for looks, they watch the men from above and laugh…a Venus flytrap waiting for a hungry morsel.

Amidst the smoke and din, the air sags humid and claustrophobic. I’ve left the mountain and the children of the clouds for a chair inside bacchus’ bar. The river empties back to the way of the world where everyone's worth is in american dollars (el salvador’s national currency since 2001). A Santana tune blares with trumpets and drums. A complete shock to the system that says too cheerily…welcome back.

By Mai Brehaut

leaving guatemala (bye bye crazy buses)
next stop...el salvador
breakfast of champions 
chicos looking at a truck load of masked militia
gigantic bubble gum delivery?
straight ahead, then a hard right at the volcano...
before buses

Sunday, October 02, 2011

I Left My Heart in Guatemala

Strawberry Banana Clafoutis

On our last night in San Marcos la Laguna de Atitlan, Guatemala, a mayan woman is selling strawberries. Walking on a narrow stone path, candle light glows against her white hair pulled up inside a weaved head band, the round basket holds the gleaming fire berries. As we pass her, I want to stand and behold her presence for a moment longer, buy some of the prized fruit. The moment passes and I catch her candle lit silhouette one last time, the basket, the picture...feeding my soul instead, as I walk away.

Que bonita!...were the words I declared when I found these lovely mountain fresas. It was several weeks ago, when the boy and I would walk to the village to eat our weekly lunch (plato tipico of rice, beans, eggs or chicken and tortillas) at Susi's comedor. We stopped by the fruit and vegetable stand; a solitary strawberry bag was left. For 6 quetzales or 75 cents, it was an impulse buy, but I was so blessed to walk home with the last bag intended for me.

The strawberries were small and delicate; bright red and firm...lovingly picked. For several days, we enjoyed them fresh or with a little sugar. One afternoon, Miguel brought us sweet ripe bananas from the tree on the lake house...and like magic these 2 fruits met...their smells mixing harmoniously, a love affair so destined, so steamy that only the oven would consummate. And when eaten together, you're only reminded that is that good! The ambrosia of the gods.

Enjoy y buen prochevo.

Clafoutis of Strawberries and Bananas Recipe
Recipe adapted from Jacques Pepin (Fast Food My Way)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
3 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup whole fat strawberry yogurt
½ c strawberries (chopped or if small leave whole
2 small bananas (thick slice)
pinch of sea salt

Preheat the oven to 200 C or 400 F. Melt the butter in a small ovenproof skillet on low. For the batter: whisk flour, eggs, sugar (2 tablespoons; reserve 1 for the bananas), yogurt, pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon of the melted butter. Set aside.

The secret is to caramelize the bananas. Increase the heat to medium on the skillet with the butter. Add another tablespoon of sugar and the bananas. Cook for 3 minutes until brown (if you need to add, more butter to make sure the pan is not dry). Pour the batter into the skillet and arrange the strawberries on top. Place the skillet over high heat for about 2 minutes and then transfer it to the oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned and puffy. Remove from the oven. Serve the clafoutis warm, directly in the pan or flip onto a plate.


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