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My Volunteer World (Pt. III): Machete Mania August 27, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in Volunteer.
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As a part of the workshop my partner and myself were preparing, my partner Linda and myself were walking around the community to local shops in an attempt to start up some sort of supply chain of recyclable paper. We did this because we were attempting to promote recycling and a wee bit of income generation for the yet to be determined workshop participants by introducing the idea of “spiced paper”. This was simply new paper we blended up from a mix of used paper, followed by the addition of some food coloring and aroma heavy spices. The idea was to make greetings cards (or whatever else) and sold to the tourists as a local item. This is the background to the story, this is why we were walking. This was before we saw some baby goats tied to a post on a hill.

As should be expected by two city dwellers from a faraway land who aren’t accustomed to livestock walking around freely in the community, we stopped for a while and played with the animals. After a few minutes of this, two older men began to emerge at the top of the hill and made their way towards us. We stood up and slowly began walking in their direction (not knowing who’s goats they were) until one of the men stopped and began talking to us as the second of the two continued down the hill. The man who stopped was named Joseph. His eyes were fogged over with cataracts, yet my gaze into them seemed to go on forever. Espionage of the human soul. He was also in possession of a machete that he swung around as if it were a fly swatter. Regardless, we introduced ourselves as volunteers from Canada and briefly described why we were there. His initial excitement to see us was outright suspicious as he proclaimed a love for all white people. Linda, who is of Chinese decent, didn’t fit the Caucasian profile he spoke of but neither of us were about to bring up this minor detail. We were polite and tried to carry on a conversation, which was hard because of his thick Caribbean accent.

He began speaking of George W. Bush as the devil. I was disturbed by the topic right away because it brought him into a highly emotional state which I was weary to deal with but there was nothing we could do (while keeping our calm at least). He spoke of the M-16s. He said when we returned home, we should go to the white house and take out the president. I’m not sure he understood Canada was a completely different country. He spoke of military jets flying over head. The details were lost in translation. We attempted to end the conversation several times but that wasn’t an option. His machete was flailing about. Were we to become a series of epitaphs? Then, without warning, he grabbed my partners wrist and held onto it. I remember when she whispered my name. Not knowing what to do, I reached out my hand hoping he would release her and shake my hand. He simply looked at me in response. Finally, the words during these moments long since forgotten, I fruitlessly attempted to peel his life-hardened hands from her wrists. Suddenly, with the blur of moment in full swing, the second man appeared and told him to leave her alone. She was freed and they both walked away as quickly as they appeared. We continued up the hill away from them.

It was all truly bizarre. Machetes are indeed a common tool on the island. But his actions suggested to me that he knew the power it had over us during the chance encounter. I had gotten to know a local in the community who lost his hand in a machete attack the previous year. They were indeed multi-functional. His hatred for the United States could have been based on recent events, but his age and words suggested otherwise. The liberation of Grenada in 1983 by the American saviors could have had a lot to do with his sentiments. I will never know exactly who this man was or what he was capable of. Who knows what would have happened if the man he was with didn’t return when he did. But he did, and we continued walking along the road when we encountered something just as bizarre.

A large, angry looking dog came barking towards us as we approached a private Christian school we didn’t know existed. In the bushes behind the school was a teacher who was looking after several children on their break. They were all pale white with bleach blond hair dressed in formal school attire. A cult like ambiance overwhelmed me. They looked upon us suspiciously yet didn’t utter a word. This reaction was the complete opposite of the open, outgoing, and exceptionally friendly attitude exhibited by the public school children of the community where we lived. As we reached the school, we said hello to the other staff member and talked about who we were and what we were doing. She spoke in an accent that was completely foreign to me. The shelves were full of books and they had a working computer for the children to use. Both of which would be hard to come across publicly within the town. Eventually we turned back to the direction we came. We came across Joseph one more time, he was passed out sitting near one of the local shops we had previously entered in an attempt to aquire paper. We didn’t say a word as we passed and eventually made it back to our home away from home.

The day was one to remember. We were confronted by a man who obviously wasn’t too happy with our presence (regardless of his opening statements), followed by an encounter by a paranoid group of white children with funny accents. Maybe they were withdrawn because years of isolation, the fear not belonging. A world within a world within a world. And there we were in our own gated property, trying to save the world, just like everyone else.

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