You know the saying, “Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Most missionaries I know have a sister saying, “Don’t tell the Grandparents.” There’s a lot that happens overseas that just can’t be reported back home for fear of insighting mass panic among all the parents of missionaries that daily pray for the safety of their children and grandchildren serving in Foreign Missions. Over Christmas break I finally told my parents one of those stories, so I feel free now to write about it on my blog.
It happened that while we were in Language School in Costa Rica our visas expired and we had to leave the country for a few days. Back in those days everyone was on their own to plan a visa trip. So when we had a long break at the beginning of August we bought bus tickets for our family of 4 (at the time). We planned to go to Granada, Nicaragua for a long weekend. Everyone said Granada was beautiful, colonial, and historic. They failed to mention that Nicaragua had not cleaned up after it’s Civil War and that Granada looked like it was still in an active bombing zone.
When the Bus service dropped us off on the edge of town at 9pm the entire city was in a blackout. To make matters worse, there were NO marked taxis anywhere near the bus stop. In the pitch black we “hired” some guy with 4 wheels to drive us to our hotel. The hotel was also completely dark. With a flashlight, the desk clerk directed us to our room. The minute we shut the door we were engulfed in an inky blackness. Without air conditioning or light, I felt like I was in a tomb. Claustrophobia gripped me!! I dug in my bag and found my own flashlight. With no electricity there was also no water because the whole system was run off electric pumps. That meant no showers, no brushing of teeth and no flushing of the toilets. Great. I’m loving Granada already.
We had a hard time sleeping that night in the suffocating darkness. We didn’t dare open our door for air for fear that some creeper would jump out of the darkness and… well, do what psychopaths do. So the door stayed shut. In the morning things looked a little better. We learned that for about 2 hours every morning we would have electricity. We filled our bathtub with water to save for when the power would go out again. That way, at least we could give the kids a bath in the evening then scoop the bath water into the toilet for flushing. We’re missionaries, right? We can handle this. In the light of day we also discovered the pool area, which would grow green and funky within a few days since the other hotel guests decided to convert it into their own not-so-private bathtub.
It was hot in Granada. I mean hot! So just to be outdoors we spent hours wandering around the historic center and killing time down by the lake. I was hot and irritable. We tried to stay out of crowds because the children begging were so aggressive. Beggars swarmed me on more than one occasion and though I carried no valuables I was still overwhelmed and angry at being pulled on and pushed around. They didn’t believe me when I said I had nothing. Even when I turned my pockets inside out and showed them they were empty, the children still pulled on my clothes and arms and hair until I had to use my voice to firmly tell them NO. I don’t like to be that way, but they wouldn’t leave me alone!
One day we were standing on a raised patio that ran along the front of all the historic buildings in the center of town. We were waiting for “The Running of the Bulls” to pass by our way. We thought that being up higher on the steps would be safer if the bull charged or the crowd surged. Vaqueros on horseback were entertaining the crowd with their roping and riding skills while we waited for the bull. Slowly, slowly the oldest bull I’ve ever seen ambled down the street on arthritic hoofs. When it would pause for a rest the crowd would taunt it and the vaqueros whip it with their ropes. Then the old beast would teeter and sway one way or the other and the crowd would go wild as if it had tried to jump into their laps! I watched the crowd.
While I was observing, I noticed a man trying to pick pocket a tall Germanic looking tourist. He wasn’t a very smooth operator because she caught him trying to reach into her bag. Either she didn’t want to scold him in her language or he intimidated her, I’m not sure, but she just cast a withering scowl in his direction and clutched her bag tighter. I wondered what I would do in that situation. Do I have the Fight or Flight instinct? Which one would immerge?
The crowded again Ooohed and gasped as the bull lazily swung it’s horns in our direction. My attention was diverted again. With my right hand I quickly thrust my camera above my head for a random crowd shot, my left hand was wrapped around my backpack hung on my front side. Suddenly two teenagers pushed and giggled their way through the crowd to my right. I wondered what was the point of all that excitement; the bull wasn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Then I felt a hand on my left thigh. The hand moved up my leg and started patting the bottom of my backpack. I swung my gaze to the left and saw the face of the same man who I had witnessed pick-pocketing the German woman. We locked eyes and instantly my instincts took over. My left hand, which was curled around my backpack, flung straight out in an arc and my fist made contact with the guy’s face. I have never seen anyone go airborne and land flat on their back except in the movies. He landed a few feet away from me and I started screaming, “Quit touching me! Back off!!” in English and gesticulating largely. I was causing a huge scene. The crowed instantly formed a circle around us, all eyes on the two of us. The man on the ground tried to scramble backwards away from me. My husband quickly scooped up our two kids and backed away against a wall as I continued screaming and rushing towards the stunned pickpocket. At some point I regained my senses enough to realize that I had caused the excited crowd to become volatile. I said, “let’s get out of here,” as the crowd collapsed on the thief and starting swinging their own fists!
We retreated to an ice cream shop a few blocks away to cool down and think through what had just happened. Hot and irritable had turned into shaken and exhausted. I no longer cared about the bull or the crowds or the beggar children. I realized that missionaries probably shouldn’t punch people, but in all fairness, he didn’t know I was a missionary and he did have it coming. My instincts just took over! He’s just lucky that I’m not left handed…
Later we circled around the square again and saw the police arresting the thief and a couple of his teenage companions. The crowd remained in a circle around the squad car, yelling and throwing a hail of trash down on the handcuffed men. I asked a bystander why the crowd was so angry with these guys. “Tourism is important to our livelihood. Those guys make us look bad and it’s bad for business!” I thought, yes indeed, it’s bad for business. I, for one, will not be going back to Granada anytime soon.
And that, my friends, is a story that we did not tell the Grandparents… until recently.
You are great story teller! We also have a story to tell of a trip to Granada when we missed a battle in the Sandanista war by about 20 minutes back in 1978. We like having you here in Costa Rica.
Thanks Ken! Can’t wait to hear THAT story. Sounds like a doozie!
This is the best!!!! Totally laughing out loud! Why haven’t I ever heard of this story!!!! Still laughing!
I can’t believe I haven’t TOLD you this story. Of course my New Jersey Girlfriend would love it!
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