Wednesday, June 13, 2007

June 11, 2007

I'm sitting at the gate at SeaTac, awaiting the final (air) leg of our journey back to Alaska. Pat is sitting beside me, happily immersed in a Louise Erdrich novel and trying to digest all of the amazing food we've been privileged to eat this weekend (thank you, Debby!)

So about that last night in Managua. It began innocuously enough. We rented some bits of metal, tentatively held together with other bits of metal and calling itself a car, as we didn't trust Edwin's chronically over-stressed truck to make it all the way up (let alone back). Plus it was likely to rain for much of the trip, and we had a fair pile of luggage and four people, none of whom relished riding in back. We arrived in Managua around 2pm, and went straight to Edwin's older brother Reinaldo's house. We'd brought the chainsaw along as Rei had mentioned something about wanted to limb the mango tree in his patio. As it turned out, he wanted roughly half the tree brought down, apparently because the falling leaves disturbed his neighbor, and the falling mangos disturbed his wife. We must have looked skeptical as he quickly reassured us that he himself was a friend to trees, but… The tree was pretty high, and Edwin refused to allow Pat to climb up and so went himself. Using a simplistic system of ropes, they managed, over a couple hours, to remove all of the offending limbs, with the only casualty being a two inch shallow gash on Pat's left temple, where he was struck by a swinging chunk of wood after Reinaldo let the rope go slack mid-lowering. All in all, a job well done.

By five o'clock everyone was more or less cleaned up, and we noticed that Rosario, Rei's wife, was busily setting up an elaborate shrine in front of the house. We know what that means: the Catholics are coming! I asked what was going on, and sure enough, it was Corpus Christi day, a big deal, and there would be a parade and many people from their church coming by, and….it was time to flee the premises. Edwin, Pat, and I leapt in the metal car-like thingy and escaped to visit his cousin Christina a couple barrios away. We stayed until 6:30 or so, then headed back to Rei's house, only to find it locked up tight, with everyone gone to church. Edwin suggested we wait them out a few blocks away at a funky Jamaican themed pub that the family had taken Pat to several months back. We headed over, intent on having a couple beers, and maybe a bowl of rondon, a coconut milk-based stew, and the main dietary staple of the Atlantic Coast. Somehow, a couple beers turned into many, and before we knew it, it was nearly 11pm, and Edwin and I were quite wobbly; Pat much less so, but he'd indulged in a few beers to mourn our last night, which to his alcohol-deprived system, had some effect. He was, however, clearheaded enough to drive, and in a few minutes we were back at Rei's. They dropped me off, then went to take the car over to the secured parking lot about two blocks away. And then they didn't come back. After about an hour, Rei went to the lot to see if they'd made it that far, and learned they'd pulled in, then told the attendant they'd be back shortly and left again. More time passed. Rei and Rosario went to bed, and exhorted me to do the same. Sure. I could sleep when we had to be at the airport by 5:30am, and my husband was missing somewhere in Managua, in a car from another region, with most of our luggage in the trunk. By 3:30am I was very distraught. (This is an extreme understatement.) I woke up Rosario, explaining that there was no logical reason for them not to be home, so couldn't we call the police or something?? She said not really, they wouldn't give us any information over the phone, and she and Rei refused to leave the house before daylight as they felt it was too dangerous.

Finally at 4:15 we heard a pounding on the door, and there was a very disheveled Pat. He told us that Edwin had been arrested and we had to go to the police station to try and get him out. He had a taxi waiting, so he, Rei, and I leapt in and we were off on an exhilarating, if somewhat terrifying, ride as we flew through the streets of Managua at speeds bordering on sonic. After ten minutes, we screeched to a halt in front of a light blue barricade: the ubiquitous color of all Nicaraguan police stations. On the way, Pat filled us in on what had transpired. It seems he and Edwin had decided to go for one last beer, and had somehow—possibly as a result of neither of them actually knowing the city—ended up in one of the dodgier barrios. They found a bar, ordered their beers, and sat back to watch the locals. One of which was prone on the floor, with his buddies trying unsuccessfully to pick him up. Pat immediately sprang into action, hauling the woozy Nica to his feet and onto his friends' shoulders. Having finished their beers, and aware that the rest of us were probably growing concerned, they headed home. Several blocks away, while stopped at a light, two men on a motorcycle pulled directly in front of them, approached the car, and demanded Edwin show them his papers. He refused, on the basis that they were in all likelihood up to no good. They insisted, however, and pulled him out of the car to make their point. As soon as Pat saw them roughing him up, he joined in the fray, at which point they suddenly found themselves surrounded by three uniformed National Police, and five red beret-wearing, Kalashnikov-wielding paramilitary. Pat and Edwin were soon handcuffed and placed in the back of a Police truck, Pat clipped to the rear roll bar, Edwin face down in the bed. He had, by that time, been punched in the eye, and kicked repeatedly in the ribs. Pat fared somewhat better, after responding to being pushed in the chest with an equally sharp shove to the face of the plainclothes cop. (You can take the boy out of Glasgow, but….) Apparently his Gringo-ness saved him from further abuse, a theory supported by the fact that once they arrived at the police station, Edwin was led away, while Pat was basically ignored. He spent the next few hours pleading with them to let him use the phone—they refused—and trying to soften them up by buying them cigarettes and sodas and phone cards—all to no avail. He tried to explain how he had friends who were cops back home, and maybe he could arrange for useful cop equipment to be donated to the station. Nada. Finally, after realizing he'd handed out $160 in small gifts to absolute no avail, he simply walked out of the station and found the cab that brought him home.

As soon as we returned, Rei, looking about as respectable as anyone possibly can, began talking to the officers, explaining about our early flight, and how our bags were in the car which they had impounded. He talked and talked, and then the cops talked for a while, and then no one talked, and eventually, at around 5:00am, they told us we could get the luggage, but that Edwin and the car had to stay till 10am. Although this was not the outcome we'd hoped for, it at least would enable us to catch our plane. So we all went outside and over to the car, but no one seemed to have the keys. The cops disappeared and a few minutes later returned with Edwin, who was looking extremely irritated. Now there were four cops, including the chief (imagine a miniature version of a 40-something Omar Sharif), and the three of us, standing around the car, which remained locked. Edwin told the chief he was very angry about being dragged from his car and beaten by non-uniformed cops, for no apparent reason. The chief asked him to point out who hit him, but of course those men were nowhere to be seen. When Edwin could not identify them, the chief shrugged and implied perhaps Edwin received his bruises elsewhere. Edwin asked if he was suggesting he beat up himself, and the chief just shrugged again and reminded Edwin he had been drinking… I coughed and looked at my watch which reminded Reinaldo of the time crunch, and he asked the cops again for the keys. At 5:20 they were finally produced, an $80 fine was paid, and Edwin and the car were allowed to leave, though Edwin's license will be suspended for three months. We raced to the house to get the rest of our stuff, then flew to the airport, arriving by 5:45. Quick goodbyes and we hurried to the ticket counter. Although we were nearly the last in line, we made it through with minutes to spare.

And we are left wondering: the car tries to kill us on the way to the airport leaving Anchorage in January; now all of this. Are we to expect drama before every departure? And....just one last picture, of the duck, the day we left. Little bugger's being cared for by our neighbors, but damn if we don't miss that incessant peeping...