Thursday, December 3, 2009

I'm Only Human

I’m pretty sure you are all sick of hearing about Michael Jackson. Since the moment the media blew up with news of his untimely death this summer I haven’t seemed to be able to escape him either.

One of the first weeks I was here in training, still fresh off the plane and a little overwhelmed with Guatemalan culture shock I had my first encounter with Mike in Guate. I was walking with my host sister Sylvia towards the Sunday market in Alotenango, when all of the sudden like a faint beacon in the dark, I heard the soft hum of a familiar melody. “Weary, Tell Me Will You Hold Me, When Wrong, Will You Scold Me, When Lost Will You Fiiiiind Me?” “Awe, Free Willy, I love this song” I thought as I walked closer to the source of this pleasant musical gift- a 4 ft tall black loudspeaker placed outside a store that sells ovens and mattresses. The song reached my favorite part and I made Sylvia stop in front of the loudspeakers (she thought I was crazy). The booming sent robust sound waves directly to the core of my being. A smile came to my face and I mouthed the next verse as shoppers scurried around me (they also thought I was crazy), “But They Told Me, A Man Should Be Faithful , And Walk When Not Able , And Fight Till The End , But I'm Only Humaaaaan”. It took everything inside of me to keep myself from swaying to the music. The song was a welcome comfort. It gave me a momentary escape from all the foreign things around me. I wanted to stay until the end just standing there basking in Michaelness but I thought it would have a negative impact on my efforts to integrate (everyone already thought I was crazy) so I turned and kept walking, albeit slowly, towards the market with Sylvia.

At the time of this incident I didn’t find it significant enough to blog about.

Last week I went up to El Quiche, a highly indigenous part of the country in the northern highlands, and had my second notable run in with Michael. I was in a group of five volunteers spending Thanksgiving in Nebaj, El Quiche where two of the volunteers that I was with have been placed. One day we had the good fortune of being invited to the nearby village of Acul to eat a meal of the local fare, boche bols (I’m butchering the spelling- the only way I have any remembrance of what the dish was called is because it sounded a bit like bocce balls) prepared by a local family. Scott, the volunteer who works in the village guided us through the town to a tiny white washed wooden house. As we approached a small indigenous man was placing planks from the road over a muddy ditch to the entrance of the house. Scott stopped to say hello, introduced us all to the man and he welcomed us into his house.

The inside was one large room with dirt floors, a large table and chairs were set up in the front, three or four twin beds lined the side wall and a tall bulky armoire stood in the front corner. On top of the armoire sat a small TV and DVD player. We all sat at the table and while we waited for our meal to arrive we chatted and then Johnny, the other volunteer from El Quiche, played a few songs on a guitar taken down from a hook on the wall above the beds. As soon as the guitar was hung back up the little indigenous son of the small indigenous man climbed like a monkey atop the armoire and popped in a DVD for us to watch. As the TV lit up “Michael Jackson Live from Bucharest” read in white letters across the screen. The scene quickly changed to Michael performing “Bad” wearing a military-esq jacket over a sparkly silver leotard over black floodwater pants that showed his signature white socks. Now all six of us, five volunteers and one little indigenous kid, sat transfixed to the TV watching Michael perform his classics to a crowd of hysterical Eastern Europeans. It was a surreal experience- my description gives it no justice. In the middle of Michael’s "Thriller" performance a scratch on the DVD made the disk skip and sent the kid crawling back up the armoire to try to clean out the dust. His efforts were unsuccessful. He gave up with the concert DVD but then awed us all with a few Michael dance moves including the moonwalk as the steaming boche bols were being delivered to the table.

As I ate my meal, sitting in this small house with a dirt floor in the middle of the Guatemalan highlands it dawned on me how far reaching Michael Jackson’s influence is. This family that doesn’t have indoor plumbing has a son that has watched enough Michael Jackson concerts on DVD that he can do the moonwalk. Truly incredible.

Still, the moonwalk performance didn’t seem blog worthy.

Today, as I was riding down a pot-hole ridden road in a beat-up sky-blue toyota pick-up truck I had my tipping point MJ experience. I was on a trip to visit our Cooperative’s accountant in Chiquimulilla with my counterpart, Toribio. Rides are hard to come by here so before we left town his mother-in-law and 7 nieces and nephews piled in the back of the pick-up to be dropped of at a local watering hole 10KM outside of Casas Viejas. We were flying down the road swerving to miss all the bumps and ditches in the pavement. I shared the front seat with Toribio's little daughter and niece. They were both munching on Guatemalan cheetos on my lap and playing with each others shoes. I was looking out the window with my eyes stuck staring at the dangling, cracked, mirrorless side-view mirror when I heard a voice sing, “Billie Jean is not my lover” I turned my head towards the drivers seat where the noise was coming from. My counterpart was driving- concentrated on the road ahead- but in the top left corer of the driver’s side window a little boy's head was creeping into the cab. It was one of Toribio’s nephew’s and he was singing the lyrics to "Billie Jean". He was sitting on the outside wall of the bed of the truck, hanging over the side and clasped to the driver’s window with wind blowing in his face while belting Michael Jackson. I thought to myself, “Alright Mike, I give in, i’ll blog about you”.

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