Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Another Bump in the Road

Andre and I must really want to go to Brazil, otherwise we would have given up by now. Yesterday, we got to the airport 2-1/2 hours early, thinking we had everything in order -- Andre's new Brazilian visa, our flight confirmed. At 7:00 a.m. they opened the check-in desk, but 45 minutes later it was clear the line wasn't moving. That's when I heard the bad news -- flight delayed due to weather conditions in Costa Rica. The next available flight would be at 5:00 p.m. Those who had connecting flights like ourselves were offered a free hotel in San Jose. I would have loved to do that, except for one more hitch: Andre needs a Costa Rican visa, so we would have had to sleep in the airport. Again, we had to leave the airport in defeat.

Neither one of us felt like facing his friend Junior and his family with yet another failed flight, so instead we went to the beach town of Boca Chica and took a room at Hotel Mango. It had a pool, so I suggested we go for a swim. Andre said no, claiming he didn't want to travel with a wet bathing suit the next day. I said I was going in anyway, otherwise I'd go crazy sitting around all day and then the next day on planes and in airports. As I expected, he followed me into the pool. I announced I was going to swim 100 laps, which I did. I'm not a strong swimmer, but like the tortoise, I'm slow and steady.

When I first met Andre he was terrified of water. He took a few swimming lessons in Santo Domingo before I arrived this time, but the chlorine bothered him a lot. He loved the pool at L'Oase because it had less chlorine and was shallow enough to walk across. At Hotel Mango, he actually swam across the deep end. Gaining confidence, he challenged me to some races across the pool, finishing a close second each time. I predict he will eventually fall in love with the water and be a strong swimmer.

Andre isn't the first islander I've known who couldn't swim. My first husband's family was from Guam and few of them could swim either. I guess if you live on an island, you learn to fear and respect the ocean. Andre told me that his mother forbid her kids to go near water because it's dangerous. I'm reading a very interesting book called "Madame Dread" by American journalist Kathie Klarreich. Her Haitian husband was afraid of water too. She first went to Haiti in 1989 for three months to buy handicrafts for her import shop in San Francisco. One day, she gets caught in the middle of a coup d'etat. A friend suggests she write about her experience, which is how her journalism career got started.

The author falls in love, with the country and a rasta drummer, hence the title of the book. The local children call her Madame Dread because of her boyfriend's dreadlocks. They eventually get married and have a son. Her family in the Bay Area never understands why she wants to live in a country that is politically unstable, violent and dangerous, where there's limited electricity and water. But I can understand the attraction just from my two short weeks in Haiti. Granted, there are UN soldiers everywhere now, so I didn't see anything remotely violent or dangerous, but the piles of garbage on the streets, an hour a day of electricity, and the crowded conditions on public transportation were all challenges. But the color, the vibrancy, the people, the natural beauty is captivating.

What I don't understand from her book is why she stays with Jean Raymond. Unlike Andre, her husband is only happy in Haiti. He shrivels up and gets depressed any time they go to visit her family in California, he refuses to learn English, he hates the food. He's also very macho, promises to help out with the kid, but doesn't. As a journalist, she's highly regarded because she lives in Haiti and speaks Creole fluently. She resents other journalists who fly in whenever there's a coupe or a military takeover, grab the story, and fly out. She interviews high-ranking political and military leaders, none of whom she likes, even though the Haitians at first had a high hopes for Aristide.

The book is helping me understand why Andre doesn't like to go out after dark, is distrustful of strangers, and eels he has to protect me all the time. I asked him if he ever saw dead bodies in the streets. He didn't because his family didn't go outside unless they had to. Schools closed. People lost their jobs. That might also explain why he's more a of homebody than I am. The outside world presents opportunities and adventures for me. To him, it was just danger and despair.

Well, as they say, the third time's the charm. We are finally en route to Brazil, on layover in San Jose, Costa Rica until early afternoon. We'll arrive in Sao Paulo, the 3rd largest city in the world, around 5:00 a.m. tomorrow. Luckily we didn't have a reservation because we would have had to change it twice. I figure it'll be early enough in the day that we can head to the colonial Centro area and have a look around before committing ourselves to a hotel. I don't like big cities, so we probably won't stay long, but we hope to find some racquetball.

This is my first time back to South America since 1983 when former pro Steve Keeley and I taught racquetball throughout Latin America for 5 months. It was one of the best experiences of my life and the beginning of my love affair with the Spanish language. We published monthly articles and photos about our adventures. I recently contacted the racquetball magazine and the editor gave me a go-ahead to do it again.

I hope this trip proves to be every bit as exciting as the first time.

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