Sunday, March 24, 2013

"It is High Time you Recovered Your Consciences"

El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero killed 33 years ago today by a right wing death squad. He had called for soldiers to stop killing their "own brother peasants." Far from forgotten, his image is found painted by locals in towns and villages, and youngsters tell his story. I took this one last month in San Pedro Perulupan (pop: 44,000)
Here is what he said just 24 hours before his murder.
Archbishop Oscar Romero
The Last Sermon (1980)
Let no one be offended because we use the divine words read at our mass to shed light on the social, political and economic situation of our people. Not to do so would be unchristian. Christ desires to unite himself with humanity, so that the light he brings from God might become life for nations and individuals.
I know many are shocked by this preaching and want to accuse us of forsaking the gospel for politics. But I reject this accusation. I am trying to bring to life the message of the Second Vatican Council and the meetings at Medellin and Puebla. The documents from these meetings should not just be studied theoretically. They should be brought to life and translated into the real struggle to preach the gospel as it should be for our people. Each week I go about the country listening to the cries of the people, their pain from so much crime, and the ignominy of so much violence. Each week I ask the Lord to give me the right words to console, to denounce, to call for repentance. And even though I may be a voice crying in the desert, I know that the church is making the effort to fulfill its mission....
Every country lives its own "exodus"; today El Salvador is living its own exodus. Today we are passing to our liberation through a desert strewn with bodies and where anguish and pain are devastating us. Many suffer the temptation of those who walked with Moses and wanted to turn back and did not work together. It is the same old story. God, however, wants to save the people by making a new history....
History will not fail; God sustains it. That is why I say that insofar as historical projects attempt to reflect the eternal plan of God, to that extent they reflect the kingdom of God. This attempt is the work of the church. Because of this, the church, the people of God in history, is not attached to any one social system, to any political organization, to any party. The church does not identify herself with any of those forces because she is the eternal pilgrim of history and is indicating at every historical moment what reflects the kingdom of God and what does not reflect the kingdom of God. She is the servant of the Kingdom of God.
The great task of Christians must be to absorb the spirit of God's kingdom and, with souls filled with the kingdom of God, to work on the projects of history. It's fine to be organized in popular groups; it's all right to form political parties; it's all right to take part in the government. It's fine as long as you are a christian who carries the reflection of the kingdom of God and tries to establish it where you are working, and as long as you are not being used to further worldly ambitions. This is the great duty of the people of today. My dear Christians, I have always told you, and I will repeat, that the true liberators of our people must come from us Christians, from the people of God. Any historical plan that's not based on what we spoke of in the first point-the dignity of the human being, the love of God, the kingdom of Christ among people-will be a fleeting project. Your project, however, will grow in stability the more it reflects the eternal design of God. It will be a solution of the common good of the people every time, if it meets the needs of the people.... Now I invite you to look at things through the eyes of the church, which is trying to be the kingdom of God on earth and so often must illuminate the realities of our national situation.
We have lived through a tremendously tragic week. I could not give you the facts before, but a week ago last Saturday, on 15 March, one of the largest and most distressing military operations was carried out in the countryside. The villages affected were La Laguna, Plan de Ocotes and El Rosario. The operation brought tragedy: a lot of ranches were burned, there was looting, and-inevitably-people were killed. In La Laguna, the attackers killed a married couple, Ernesto Navas and Audelia Mejia de Navas, their little children, Martin and Hilda, thirteen and seven years old, and eleven more peasants.
Other deaths have been reported, but we do not know the names of the dead. In Plan de Ocotes, two children and four peasants were killed, including two women. In El Rosario, three more peasants were killed. That was last Saturday.
Last Sunday, the following were assassinated in Arcatao by four members of ORDEN: peasants Marcelino Serrano, Vincente Ayala, twenty-four years old, and his son, Freddy. That same day, Fernando Hernandez Navarro, a peasant, was assassinated in Galera de Jutiapa, when he fled from the military.
Last Monday, 17 March, was a tremendously violent day. Bombs exploded in the capital as well as in the interior of the country. The damage was very substantial at the headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture. The campus of the national university was under armed siege from dawn until 7 P.M. Throughout the day, constant bursts of machine-gun fire were heard in the university area. The archbishop's office intervened to protect people who found themselves caught inside.
On the Hacienda Colima, eighteen persons died, at least fifteen of whom were peasants. The administrator and the grocer of the ranch also died. The armed forces confirmed that there was a confrontation. A film of the events appeared on TV, and many analyzed interesting aspects of the situation.
At least fifty people died in serious incidents that day: in the capital, seven persons died in events at the Colonia Santa Lucia; on the outskirts of Tecnillantas, five people died; and in the area of the rubbish dump, after the evacuation of the site by the military, were found the bodies of four workers who had been captured in that action.
Sixteen peasants died in the village of Montepeque, thirty-eight kilometers along the road to Suchitoto. That same day, two students at the University of Central America were captured in Tecnillantas: Mario Nelson and Miguel Alberto Rodriguez Velado, who were brothers. The first one, after four days of illegal detention, was handed over to the courts. Not so his brother, who was wounded and is still held in illegal detention. Legal Aid is intervening on his behalf.
Amnesty International issued a press release in which it described the repression of the peasants, especially in the area of Chalatenango. The week's events confirm this report in spite of the fact the government denies it. As I entered the church, I was given a cable that says, "Amnesty International confirmed today [that was yesterday] that in El Salvador human rights are violated to extremes that have not been seen in other countries." That is what Patricio Fuentes (spokesman for the urgent action section for Central America in Swedish Amnesty International) said at a press conference in Managua, Nicaragua.
Fuentes confirmed that, during two weeks of investigations he carried out in El Salvador, he was able to establish that there had been eighty-three political assassinations between 10 and 14 March. He pointed out that Amnesty International recently condemned the government of El Salvador, alleging that it was responsible for six hundred political assassinations. The Salvadorean government defended itself against the charges, arguing that Amnesty International based its condemnation on unproved assumptions.
Fuentes said that Amnesty had established that in El Salvador human rights are violated to a worse degree than the repression in Chile after the coupe d'etat. The Salvadorean government also said that the six hundred dead were the result of armed confrontations between army troops and guerrillas. Fuentes said that during his stay u l El Salvador, he could see that the victims had been tortured before their deaths and mutilated afterward.
The spokesman of Amnesty International said that the victims' bodies characteristically appeared with the thumbs tied behind their backs. Corrosive liquids had been applied to the corpses to prevent identification of the victims by their relatives and to prevent international condemnation, the spokesman added. Nevertheless, the bodies were exhumed and the dead have been identified. Fuentes said that the repression carried out by the Salvadorean army was aimed at breaking the popular organizations through the assassination of their leaders in both town and country.
According to the spokesman of Amnesty International, at least three thousand five hundred peasants have fled from their homes to the capital to escape persecution. "We have complete lists in London and Sweden of young children and women who have been assassinated for being organized," Fuentes stated....
I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, "Thou shalt not kill." No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order. The church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to face the fact that reforms are valueless if they are to be carried out at the cost of so much blood. In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.
The church preaches your liberation just as we have studied it in just as we have studied it in the holy Bible today. It is a liberation that has, above all else, respect for the dignity of the person, hope for humanity's common good, and the transcendence that looks before all to God and only from God derives its hope and its strength.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

"Put that Away!"

Standing: Witness, left.  General, right.
Today is the 31st anniversary of the military coup that brought to power Gen. Efrain Ríos Montt, now on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity.  
Since Tuesday, Maya Ixil witnesses have been testifying under oath, relating their experience a few feet from the defense table where the general sits, fit-looking at age 86.
     "Put that away!" ordered Judge Jazmín Barrios, when Juan López Mateo, 68, took a small photo album from his pocket and opened it to display pictures of two children.
     "But this is my proof," said Lopez, sounding hapless.  
     Wearing a red woolen jacket with black abstract designs, Lopez testified that he returned from working a cornfield late on a September morning, 1982, to find soldiers occupying his village in the northern highlands.  At gunshots, he hid. Around three in the afternoon, soldiers gone, Lopez said entered his house to find his wife and two children dead. The five-year old still had the rope around his neck with which he had been strangled; the two-year old's head was beaten in as if by a stick.
     "My heart hurts," Lopez said, more than thirty years after the event.
     Another witness, also a native Ixil Maya, spoke at great length in fluent Spanish.  The judge, apparently, considered that he went beyond the answer to the question put to him, ordering him to respond precisely only in his native Ixil tongue through the designated court interpreter.
     How much Judge Barrios is able to keep witnesses from giving voice to the torrent of memory and indignation unleashed by the trial, possibly at the expense of an orderly process, is an open question.  Dozens more are set to testify.
Witness, left.  Prosecution team, seated at table.

     The United States government supported the 18-month long Ríos-Montt regime in its anti-insurgency campaign, part of a 36-year civil conflict.  In a 1982 visit to Guatemala City, Pres. Ronald Reagan declared the general was "getting a bum rap."  A United Nations-sponsored Truth Commission estimated some 200,000 persons died during the war that ended in 1996.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

First Day of Historic Genocide Trial

Prosecution, Defense, Spectators arriving from far away

Arriving from far away

A wild and wooly beginning to the Guatemala genocide trial.  "This is a lynching!" one defense attorney shouted in the hallowed Supreme Court hearing room.  I am reporting the trial for the National Catholic Reporter each issue, and writing a story for California Lawyer which will appear later..  Meanwhile, here is my curtain raiser on the trial for the Los Angeles Times Sunday Opinion section just after the pre-trial in February.

Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

Zuri Rios, center, former legislator and daughter of the defendant

Justice for genocide in Guatemala?
Spectators applauded when a judge determined there was cause to try Guatemalan Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt. Firecrackers sounded outside the courthouse

By Mary Jo McConahay
February 10, 2013

GUATEMALA CITY — When a judge ruled to admit all the prosecution documents and expert witnesses in the genocide trial here of Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt last week — ensuring that Guatemala will be the first country in history to try one of its own heads of state for the most egregious crime against humanity — no triumphal smiles crossed the faces of courtroom observers. Some had been working toward this moment for years: two elderly women who between them lost a brother and a son among the 200,000 dead and disappeared over 36 years of guerrilla warfare and military dictatorship; indigenous Maya survivors from the highlands, where the army by its own account erased entire villages; those who spent their young adulthood in exile, then returned before it was safe to do so, throwing themselves into the tedious labor of collecting the evidence now being used against the general.
The audience had indeed applauded in January when a judge determined there was cause to hold the trial, and firecrackers sounded outside the courthouse. But defense attorneys, including a former guerrilla leader, Danilo Rodriguez, had strenuously objected to virtually everything prosecutors wanted to introduce, from the army's counterinsurgency plans (a "secret of state") to the credentials of the members of the national forensic team that exhumed remains of thousands of slain civilians. After some days of suspense, Judge Miguel Angel Gálvez's positive ruling on the admissibility of some 900 elements of evidence was cause for relief for families and rights activists; nevertheless, it seems to have sunk in that the outcome of the trial is not at all clear.
One reason is the standard of proof required for genocide, rather than, for instance, the equally reprehensible but legally distinct charge of crimes against humanity. Genocide is the targeted killing of noncombatants with the intent of wiping out a particular group, in whole or in part, based on nationality, race, religion or ethnicity. The charge is pointed and deliberate, underscoring the racism behind the killing, said Kate Doyle, director of the Guatemala Documentation Project at the National Security Archives, a nongovernmental research institute at George Washington University. Guatemalan prosecutors draw on documents uncovered by the archives.
From 1954, when a CIA-sponsored coup overthrew the democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz, until 1986, the military ran Guatemala, supported by the United States. Ríos Montt ruled from March 1982 to August 1983, an especially frenzied period of killing.
According to public prosecutor Orlando López, more than 33% of highland Ixil Maya, one of 22 ethnic Guatemala Maya groups, were exterminated in those years. The Ixil live in remote highland towns where left-leaning guerrillas had a strong presence, and the government is naming massacres there in its case against Ríos Montt. Ríos Montt called the Ixil "the internal enemy," López said in court, citing documents that will be presented as evidence. The general has denied ordering mass killings, let alone as part of a policy to exterminate Maya Indians, who make up more than half the population of Guatemala.
Some survivors who traveled more than a day to the proceedings never thought they would stand so close to the now-86-year-old man they consider monstrous. They used the word "emocionado"; they said they felt deeply moved to witness him charged as a criminal. They watched Ríos Montt striding unbent into the courtroom, his full head of hair only partly gray, conferring with his attorneys and taking notes on an unlined white pad.
"He's stronger and more lucid than we are," one longtime activist ruefully whispered to another.
There is no popular groundswell, 30 years after the violence, against Ríos Montt in Guatemala. His image as a God-fearing, strong-fisted, charismatic leader persists among those who have any memory of him at all — most of the current population was born after his 18 months as head of state.
Many Guatemalans believe the army saved the country from a threatening insurrection. In the 1980s, I saw the general's photo hung prominently in dirt-floor huts of Maya families whose neighbors had been killed in government violence. Ríos Montt offered "Frijoles y Fusiles," or "Beans and Bullets," a program bringing food to those who declared allegiance to the government, annihilation for those who did not.
In Guatemala City, "special" courts tried the dictatorship's enemies in secret, without defense; they were found guilty and hanged, invisible to the public. Cities experienced sudden welcome calm, a time also called "the peace of the graveyard." President Ronald Reagan met with the fiercely anti-communist Ríos Montt in Guatemala in 1982 and pronounced him " a man of great personal integrity," suggesting he had received "a bum rap."
Despite what may be seen as difficult odds for a guilty verdict, those who long pursued cases against the dictatorship appear heartened. "This is only the beginning," said Aura Elena Farfán, a founder of Famdegua, Guatemala Families of the Disappeared. "There should be compensation for families, not necessarily from him [Ríos Montt] but the state. Other intellectual authors [of the killings] should appear in the docket," she said, naming former President Óscar Humberto Mejia Victores, Héctor Mario López Fuentes, Ríos Montt's military chief of staff, and Gen. Benedicto Lucas Garcia, brother of the dictator who immediately preceded Ríos Montt and considered the architect of the army's counterinsurgency policy.
Farfán did much of the investigation that led to the incarceration of special forces officers who took part in the massacre of more than 300 people at a settlement called Dos Erres during Ríos Montt's time. Some of the slain were dumped into an unfinished well. Forensic investigators who exhumed the well first found a child's red T-shirt, with decorative patterns at the shoulders. "A boy's," said a villager. For a child of what age, she was asked? "Six." The well produced remains of babies, women and old men.
Guatemalan officers, including Ríos Montt, received training at the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Ga., now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The report of the Commission for Historical Clarification, mandated in the run-up to U.N.-brokered 1996 Guatemalan peace accords, stated that counterinsurgency training taught there identified all opponents, even the unarmed, as adversaries, spreading "techniques of persecution ... within a growing atmosphere of state terror."
When Judge Gálvez made his ruling last week, he read aloud a long and astonishing litany: the number and name on each of 300 death certificates he is accepting into evidence in the Ríos Montt case. No matter how the proceedings turn out, some will press on for justice. "We still do not know where our loved ones are," said Blanca Hernandez, a member of Famdegua, speaking of 45,000 who remain disappeared.

Mary Jo McConahay reported on the Guatemalan civil war and its aftermath for numerous publications. She is the author of "Maya Roads, One Woman's Journey Among the People of the Rainforest."
Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Saturday, March 16, 2013

On the Macal

 On the Macal

By Mary Jo McConahay

Floating in a Beat-Up Canoe

Yellow-headed swallows dipped in and out of thick mist resting on the river. That fog probably followed the water’s curve for miles, I thought, maybe the whole length of Belize. I won’t see a thing from the boat.

Atop a high bank overlooking the Macal, I stood with my arms crossed, waiting for full dawn, feeling miffed.  The fog had burned off along shore, but the water wouldn’t let it go. As I watched, a chunk of the white stuff seemed to break sideways and soar above the river, a white king vulture erupting as if born of the mist.  It tacked and flew close over my head. I saw its magnificent wings trimmed smartly in black, each feather distinct. Shaken from myself, I watched the bird become ever smaller in blue sky, like a rocket launched into space.

“Just you?” came a voice from below.

A young man, very young but no longer a boy, stood tall and tanned, barefoot on the sand.  He was talking to me.  I nodded.

“Good,” he said. “We be light.”

At the water’s edge sat a feeble-looking craft about ten feet long, maybe a near antique, a Fiberglas canoe scratched and dull with age. How long had I been watching that bird?  This tableau below me, I supposed, was what I had purchased at the hotel desk the night before: “River Trip, Laid Back, No Frills, Local Guide.”

The young man’s smile was not mocking, but he was enjoying something all right.  “Yo best be comin’ down then,” he said.  Had I been staring at him?

On the beach, I extended my hand and he took it softly. “Do you want to see the receipt?” I asked.

“Henry,” he said. His long, dark hair was braided into a thousand tresses, each secured at the bottom with a single cocoa-colored bead.  I wondered who did it for him, then wondered why I wondered.

“So Henry,” I said, more curtly than necessary. “Do you want the receipt?”

He shook his head no. The smile became even wider, but it was kind. Bright teeth. Full lips. He lifted the bow of the boat and raised his eyes to the aft, a signal I should push.  I took off my sandals and dropped them into the boat. The water felt cool on my feet.  When Henry tried to help me board, I waved him away. Lowering myself to the middle plank seat, however, I lost my balance and almost tipped us both into the drink.  He didn’t meet my eyes then. I felt spared, but mad at myself as we pushed off from shore.

“Yo wantin’ a ride on da river, Miss Lady,” he said to my back.  The engine sputtered.  
“Yo want to re-lax.”

He was right about that, but I didn’t like hearing it from someone I had known for five minutes.  Younger.  Who spoke oddly.  I had not dropped biology for years of studying literature without carrying around some proper respect for the language and — I admit — disdain for those who did not. One thing was certain: I did not want small talk today, my only hours free of the standardized teachers’ tour with the others, my only time alone.

We floated under San Ignacio’s tremulous, one-lane bridge.  The rumble of tires on old metal rolled in my ears, a roar that beat on my head from the inside the skull.  I closed my eyes.  Re-lax.  Indeed.

“Like a thunder,” Henry said. And I didn’t want anyone reading my mind, either.

As the boat motored on, leaving the town behind, the harsh sounds of the bridge faded too, exactly like thunder receding. Slowly, the small engine’s soft putter became as much part of the atmosphere as birdcalls. In the mid-distance, three white egrets swooped low on wide, smooth wings, synchronized 
like a team of competition divers.

I turned around and saw Henry perched on an aft plank painted gray-pink, right hand on the tiller.  His khaki pants had been cut off above the knee, about halfway up thighs that looked strong as the trunks of young mahoganies. I suppose I had turned to get my bearings, but I am not sure. Henry steadied the tiller with an elbow as he pulled his shirt off over his head.  He was slim, tight across the stomach.

“Da sun, yo know,” he said.

“Da sun,” I said.  Then quickly, “Yes, the sun,” and turned to face forward again.

Sharp-billed kingfishers perched on boughs that reached low over the water. Sometimes one of them spread its wings and leapt from one branch to another, bright red breast like a shooting dart. A blue heron posed on a green canoe, the boat tied up empty, its owner unseen.  The heron’s neck and head were still adolescent brown, the rest of its body promising proper blue. The wooden canoe’s green paint was chipped, curling around the oarlocks.  They bobbed gently together, blue heron, green canoe, a silent poem where the land met water.

I don’t know how long we had been floating when I realized the sun had burned away almost all the mist. We came up on a rock that looked covered with brown lichen, and slowed. I dared to turn around once more. Henry cupped his hand, scooped up water and broadcast it over the rock; the brown mass burst into a cloud of tiny insects, thousands of vibrating wings sounding a high-pitched hum.  Answering some signal known only to them, the creatures tightened ranks in mid-air, then settled again as one upon another rock, silent and seamless as a prayer rug.  I could let go a little, why not? And gave Henry a congratulatory nod of the head.  He grinned, proud of the lovely trick.

Sometimes the old boat entered patches of frothy water. I grasped the sides then, to keep from losing balance.  Henry was in front of me now, the engine off, and at certain moments I watched his arm muscles strain to work the oars.  Most of the time, however, he pushed in the current without effort.  Once, when he pointed to the near shore, I focused my eyes and picked out iguanas in the trees.

They were about four feet long, the kind called “green iguanas,” but which turn brown with age to match the mottled boughs on which they stretch in the sun.  I startled myself. I was recognizing the animals, even though so many years had passed since I had studied them and their brothers, recognized them even though I had never seen the real thing outside a zoo. The iguanas might have lain there a million years, I thought, crested backs and long dinosaur tails motionless as high noon, but eyes alive, flicking slowly side to side, missing nothing, prehistoric dragons at rest, watching the river.
Below them spiny-tailed wishwillies scavenged the beach for food. They were low-caste cousins of the iguanas, smaller, nervous-looking, perpetually scurrying. Tree iguanas are herbivores, I knew, and wishwillies carniverous. I did not need Henry’s description of their repulsive behavior. But I laughed despite myself when he delivered it in a didactic voice.

“When one person is buried an’ everbody leave da grave, dem wishwillie go an’ haf dem a party sure ever time.”

I wondered what else was out there, what lived from the river, what existed in that porous green jungle wall. “Any monkeys or crocodiles?” I asked.

Yellow fever “wipe out” the monkeys, said Henry, and hunters “ice da crocs” on this stretch of the waterway.  But farther along where the Macal joins the Belize River, “they exist,” he said.

“I do believe da crocodile come back heah someday again,” Henry said dreamily, as if wishing it so.
For no reason I can give, besides the fact that we shared a capsule in time and space, floating hours together now on a river turning warm, I touched Henry’s arm to get his attention.  “I do too,” I heard myself say.  “Wish da crocs come back.” 

No response.

“I studied all this, you know,” I said.  “I studied all this once.”

My thoughts were coming fast now, as if they had been long frozen and were defrosting faster than I could catch them. I wanted to suggest out loud that maybe it was not too late, that I could return to immersing myself in plants and animals, that I could just as well teach science to middle school students as teach them the form of the short story by way of Edgar Allan Poe.  I wanted to talk.

Instead, I let myself drift along, taking in the colors of a river that flowed as ineluctably as fate, its course determined long ago. Matte orange bromeliads. Lustrous orange butterflies. Look how the bromeliads tie themselves to the trees, but don’t live from them; they are not parasites.  Rather they live from the dying leaves and other vegetable matter that float into their petals, soft pastel cups which cradle rainwater and condensation. Insects die there, and are digested.

A commotion in the bush, maybe a jaguarundi, sent small birds fluttering out of the canopy.  White spider lilies grew in clusters along the bank, slender tentacles reaching out — for what? — from the heart of each flower.

Henry’s traveling kit didn’t include shoes, but did include rum. “Do we want to take a swim?” he asked.
Later, we lay on the shore.  Because Henry wore no shirt, it was difficult not to stare at his left nipple, pierced with a shape wrought in gold.  It was meant to be noticed, and he looked pleased when I asked.  A marijuana leaf, he said.

“I thought it was a bird,” I said.

“Well, it make me feel like a bird.”

He would not be a mere boatman forever, Henry said, but surely manage his own fleet of half a dozen canoes someday. He knew the plants and animals on the river, taking seriously his job as a guide, “and I read,” he said.

About those things he didn’t know for certain, he said, he had “informed” opinions.  The sudden and mysterious fall of the great pre-Columbian Maya Empire, the question archaeologists and epigraphers have debated for decades?
No one know where the Maya disappear to,” he said.  “One day they just pick up they bags an’ say, ‘I’m going home.’”

I curled the toes of one foot into soft sand. All around us, wild purple bougainvillea emerged from the bush, circling the trunks of huge trees. This was bougainvillea at the creation, I thought, lush and brazen, embracing giants, not dwarfing itself to accommodate a tame trellis as it might at home. I felt Henry’s hand on my bare shoulder, and followed his gaze to a pair of dragonflies with pearly blue necks.  The sun shone on their black filigree wings as their bodies moved and went still, moved and went still, copulating on the bow of the boat. It was full midday, but there under the jungle canopy, on a beach practically hidden from the river, the searing air only warmed, like the temperature that opens a bloom.

I drew myself up on one elbow.  I fingered the gold leaf on Henry’s chest.  “Does that hurt?” I asked.

“I do feel it,” he said.

I dropped my hand, but Henry stretched his arms above his head and closed his eyes.  “You keep doin’ that,” he said.

It was natural we would make love, I think, as natural as the possibility that the river journey would pull me back into imagining a different present for myself.  Only the coming of night drew us from the beach. We motored all the way on the return, to beat the dark, and spoke only twice.

“I can come to da hotel,” Henry said.  “My uncle own it.”

“Maybe not,” I said.

Some time later, I heard tinkling sounds, as if from small bells.  I searched both sides of the river for what it might be, but did not turn around in the boat.

“Da goats,” Henry finally said to my back, and I could tell he had a knowing, contented look on that fine face. I will never understand why speakers in these parts say “goats” for sheep.

                                                                                                                                                        drawings by rene ozaeta
You may enjoy stories by my sister writers in the volume where "On the Macal" is published, 
The Best Women's Travel Writing, vol. 8, from Travelers' Tales, look here