Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mongolia: Getting Localized

     If you get absorbed in the video, just make sure to play it again as you start to read. This is a work of fiction. It should nevertheless be played at full volume.

     The city stopped on a knife blade. Behind me: sounds of Western progress; in front of me: a vision of timelessness. At the borderland where he met me, refusing to cross the threshold, Bold handed me a robe and the reins to a horse. Steam rose like smoke from her nostrils and she stomped the ground twice, ready. This was dragon country.

     Leaving the city behind us, we turned into the plains, riding abreast of one another, talking mostly of how my horsemanship had not improved in a decade. Bold, my brother in the big emptiness, swerved into me, pulled out ahead, jumped and scuffed up plumes of dust. I stayed upright on the horse. Nothing had changed but our ages.

     The walls of the ger had already been peeled away, layer by layer, and bundled up by the time we arrived. All that remained where home had just been was a soft circle of cleanly pressed earth. I greeted my family. We said our hello’s, drank warm horse milk from a thermos and then got moving again.

     We rode all that day, stopping to camp with an uncle, not learning our new address until the second morning. I couldn’t read the land and never discovered the secret to choosing where to set down. Everywhere we lived, it seemed, the entirety of the country was in our backyard.

     No role to play as the family constructed the ger at its new site, I held the baby and watched. They’d given her to me so I would have something to do; so I could feel important, but I knew Sarantsatsral would have been fine left alone. This was her life. She embraced change.

     Her hand closed around my finger and I sat back to watch the family work.

     That night, we celebrated our arriving, and my out-here father, Sukh, tried to teach me how to sing from all the way down inside. You must pull the song up from here, he showed me, all the way down here. He pressed a warm hand into my stomach and laughed uproariously at the strange bear noises I made. I still laugh myself every time I try to throat sing. I’m a stranger in my own voice.

     By morning, I had a job. ‘Eh handed me a bucket and set me loose on the herds.

     I’ve worked around livestock a little before, and have spent years with Western horses. Our horses are subdued. Their personalities have been shattered under the weight of our wills; they’re broken. A Western horse will not lift its head as it walks.

     These horses are different. Out on the steppe, an animal has to think for itself. They’re not pets. They’re not coddled or worried after. They’re left a little feral—a part of the land, a part of the people because people, land and horses are really all the same thing our here.

     In my life, I’d milked a cow only once. She stood dumb as the entire third grade lined up to pull her nipples with our chubby hands. She’d been doped on selective breeding and high-calorie corn-based feed. The milk spilled out of her lifeless, like her eyes.

     It is a different thing entirely to milk a wild horse. This I have learned.

     Step 1: Locate the horses in the pasture. As the pasture is Mongolia, this can take a while.

     Step 2: Convince the herd that you’re not a threat. Cloaking yourself in their scent works nicely. Step 2 will happen automatically if A) you ride them all day and B) you stop bathing, which you will.

     Step 3: Identify a lactating female horse, and one who’s not tapped out. Trial and error.

     Step 4: Place bucket under horse.

     Step 5: If you see this face, stop and run (preferably grabbing the bucket beforehand).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mongolia: Getting Back

     Standing between my house and my brother’s, there was a mountain. Monstrous, imperial, it climbed so far up into the sky that it must have been one of the last places you could still spring to the moon from. Back when the moon was closer. Back when we used to skip across the distance likes kids across the creek.

     On Tuesdays, I biked to my brother’s house, right over the mountain. The trail, in a foolish attempt to connect point A and point B with a straight line, folded over the top of it.  

     Picking up speed was the only option. I’d dip beneath the overpass, hands clear of the brakes, riding like hell. My feet cranked against the pedals, my body floated above the seat and my chin jutted forward urging me onwards.

     No speed was ever enough. My legs inevitably began to burn beneath the strain of my furious peddling. I knew it was the wrong thing to do, even then, but I didn’t care. One by one I let the gears slip down, easing the pressure against my legs but making each revolution less and less significant. When there was no lower gear to ease down to, I had to get off the bike and walk it. This is how I always saw the summit.

     I moved away from that town when I was ten. The final score: Mountain 117, Crystal 0.

     Years later, I drifted back into town again and decided that I should tackle the mountain; beat it once and for all. So I borrowed a bike and struck out along the path, towards the house that used to be my brother’s. I didn’t need a map.

     I cascaded into the underpass, peddling like a maniac, ready for the fight. My legs raced under the adrenaline surge. I held my breath. Zipping along, I crested up and over the mountain at a coast. It wasn’t even a hill; it was barely a bump in the road.

     I didn’t take that as a win.

     The past is like that. It gets too big rattling around inside your mind and then you catch up with it and it’s not what you remembered. Not at all.

     I was eight the last time I was in Mongolia. I can recall looking out into the infinity of the country that swept away in all directions and it seemed as big as looking up through the Mongolian night. I saw the edge of the universe from this country, lying backwards on a horse. It made my heart stop.

     The most surprising thing about Mongolia, the second time around, was that I had been right all along. It really did stretch out forever. You could lay the Earth down map-flat on the plateau and you’d wind up with room around the edges.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mozambique: Getting Help

Roy Brown - Hard Luck Blues

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     The traffic rolled by like an empty song played on a rubber band stretched tight. I could feel its discordant twang in my guts. The snap was coming.

     Africa-time. No clocks, no bus schedules, no ETDs or ETAs. Time was a heart drum that I couldn’t play. The earth and my body, the sky and my soul are not pounding our feet against the dance floor in step.

     I would say many minutes passed, but they could have been hours or they could have been seconds. Time passed and I stood at the edge of the road as the muck of the city started sucking me under.

     Gray, gray, everything gray.

     “Mother,” a little boy said, shoving sticky hands under my nose, “Give me my pen.”

     I shot the kid a sideways glance. “I’m not your mother and you don’t have a pen. I do, and it’s mine.”

     The words missed by a mile.

     He tried again: “Mother, give me my pen.”

     A “no” snapped quick across my tongue before I had a chance to feel the guilt-knife twist in my side. I have. He does not. I have seen this poverty for a while now and I have not grown numb to it. I have grown sick of it.

     Eyes still blank against the passing cars, I reached down and unzipped my purse but he was gone before I could hand him the tangerine.

What my backpack saw.

     I let the details float to the surface only one at a time. My brain felt fuzzy. There wasn’t enough of me to register the gravity of what I’d done so I just stood there in mud while my backpack made its merry way down to the capital, strapped to the roof of the bus. Speeding along without a hitch, no doubt.

     People buzzed by, moving at 8x.

     My computer was in that backpack. My money, my ATM card, my camera, my clothes.

     Above me, the last of the clouds had dissolved. I stood in the sunshine, but it was discomforting. Small pearls of sweat boiled out of my skin.

     My journal was in that backpack; the one I keep my notes and early drafts in. I’ve been known to pull a journal out of the jaws of a bear so you can bet I’m not about to let a bus run off with one. I just need to think.

Wonder if I could catch up with the bus in a rickshaw.

     Hot in the sun, I took hold of the zipper that ran around my right leg, just above the knee. Making the conversion to shorts would help me think. My mind needed air on my legs. I unzipped my pants.

     A woman a little older than me happened to be walking by at just that moment. When she saw me disrobing from the knee down she froze in her tracks. One outstretched arm reached towards the source of her astonishment. Here, it was not impolite to point, just so long as you used your whole hand to do it.

     Watching her watch me transform pants into shorts I tried to imagine how very strange this must seem to her.

     Then I remembered that I knew exactly how strange it was.

     An ex-boyfriend of mine rushed through the door, late for the Halloween party.

     “Don’t be hasty,” I tried to warn him, but he shooed me away with a butcher knife.

     “I’m a chef.”

     “Will you at least take your clothes off before you cut them apart?”

     A sleeve slipped to the floor.

     “I’m a chef. I know how to handle a knife.”

     Halfway around the pant leg.

     “You’re crazy.”

     “I’m not going to-OW! FUCK!”

     It took us a few minutes to stop the bleeding.

     I must have appeared at least that nutso to the woman, standing on a street corner, ankle deep in mud, taking off the lower half of my pants.

     Once she recovered her lower jaw from the floor and popped her eyeballs back where they belonged, she laughed for a long, long time.

     Deciding to use this episode as an icebreaker, I entreated her, in an impromptu game of charades to help me figure out the luggage mess I was in.

     Oh no!

     “I know!”

     What are you going to do?

     “Know anyone with a car? I have money if we can catch up to the bus.”

     And that’s how I met Lenny and George.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Indonesia: Getting Answers

Instructions: 1. Play video (which is just music). 2. Read story. 3. Enjoy.

It started with a nightmare and the way that the only answer was yes.

It was one of those dreams that just kept going. The moment of realization; the moment I knew this was a dream had come a long time before, but I kept digging up the bodies anyway. Dream or not, I needed to lay the bones out straight: heads to the north, face holes to the sky. That was the only way to quiet them down.

Hard at work in the backyard, surrounded by a fence of the dead, a shadow passed over me. I tipped my head up to the sky but by the time my eyes arched high enough, the bird was gone.

When I woke up, my skin dripped cold sweat like the last iceberg. The first glow of dawn pressed against the window and I rose to greet it, grateful not to find myself entombed in darkness after a dreamscape made of corpses. The sky had yet to receive its color; it stretched above me in depthless gray.

And the shadow, the shadow sliced it in two. The long, fiercely angular shadow of a bird, its whip-tail dragging behind two triangle wings. I watched it glide towards the forest until its outline blurred to nothing.

Funny, it seemed almost more stingray than bird, with its points and its wisp of a tail. Birds have a visible softness; you can tell that they feel light and warm and fluffy when you hold them cupped as carefully as eggshells in your hands.

This creature would have slashed your hands clean off. That is, if you had hands large enough to hold it, which you don’t.

I didn’t even consider the alternatives. The name for this bird rose up from my childhood and stuck to my brain right where it’d landed. Right in the front.


Though it was only a quarter past five, I threw my clothes on and rushed out to the lobby. It was darker out than I thought it was, and colder too. The air had yet to fill to the brim with the soggy heat of the tropics.

I’m gonna need some coffee if I’m going dinosaur hunting this morning.

“Coffee, madam?” He came out of nowhere. Stepped out from a shadow and materialized ready to serve.

“Did I say that out loud?”


“Oh. I didn’t realize.”

“Yes. Here. Welcome to coffee.”

I took the cup from him (it had also appeared in a puff of magic smoke) and smiled at my favorite welcome in the world.

“I saw something this morning,” I admitted to my host, sitting on the bluer of the two chairs.

“Yes?” he answered, standing near enough to seem a part of the conversation and far enough to distinguish me as an Other.

“I saw a bird. A big one.”

“I will tell the maid.”

“No. Outside. I saw a big bird outside my room.”

“Yes. It has flown away.”

I was losing him. “No. It was really big. It was a really big bird like, from here to here.” I tried to stretch out my arms to show him but quickly realized I lacked the length for that so I moved some furniture. “Here to here.”

“Oh. Yes. That big.”

“Do you know what it might have been?”



He shrugged. He didn’t know the name. Or he didn’t know what it was. Or he didn’t understand what I was saying.

“Do you know what a dinosaur is?”

“Yes.” Translation: obviously.

 “Have you ever heard of a pterodactyl?”

“Yes.” Translation: I’m not dumb.

“You know what it is? A pterodactyl?”

“Yes. It is dinosaur.”

“It looked like that.”

“Yes,” he agreed, happy to offer me the information I wanted, “That was it.”

“A pterodactyl?”

“Yes, a… what is the word?”


“Pterodactyl, yes.”

“Have you seen one before?”

“Yes.” Of course I have.


“Yes.” Not too often, but often enough.


“Yes.” Well, not here exactly, but nearby. “You will go into the forest. Look for Dian. You will see him and he will show you. He knows all the forest.”

I did just that. I hopped on my bike and coasted down the hill towards the line of jungle.

After ten minutes riding, I met my first gatekeeper.

You may not know this about me, especially if you know me personally, because I used to be the queen of the animals, but I don’t really like monkeys.

I like monkeys, but only if they are in trees or on the other side of a moat. When they’re sitting in the middle of the road, blocking my path with their ridiculously large balls and dagger teeth, I don’t like them.

The feeling is mutual.

I skidded to a stop in front of the alpha male, who greeted me with a customary teeth bearing while his harem circled around. Gripping the handlebars tightly (for if I was going down in a monkey fight I was taking some of these monkeys down with the bike), I let one foot come softly to the road. My eyes stayed on the ground in front of the alpha. Okay, fine, my eyes were on his balls. How could they not be? The point being that I did not make eye-contact with the monkey. I did not look him in the face, but I said to him, in my loudest person-voice, “Move.”

He showed his teeth again. One of his women chattered.

“Move, asshole monkey.”

He stood on all fours and took a couple steps towards me.

“I hate you. Don’t you bite me.”

Getting back on the bike, I rolled slowly into the mob. The locals moved through monkeys like fish through water, but I never gained that graceful stride; I never learned the monkey-walk dance.

As I rolled through the monkeys, several of them hit me, moving in fast to take a swing and then darting away. Just like in school, I ignored the harassment. The years of practice pretending not to notice bullies were put to work here in Indonesia. Good thing for that. If my instincts had run the other way, if I’d been taught to fight back, if I’d told the monkey jerks to step up yo, you’d be reading the tooth holes in my bones instead of this story.

On the other side of the monkeys, I rewarded myself with another cup of coffee. I kept my eyes pointed up as I drank, searching for signs of forgotten reptiles.

Fortified with caffeine for the journey ahead, I got back on the bike and continued down the road towards the Great Valley.

Read the second part of the story, Indonesia: Getting Closer.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Belize: Getting Wasted

Play the video and then read while listening. Enjoy and repeat as needed.

     I wasted the good weather on the jungle and the hot, unfruitful dance floors. Sun showered down on the first sixteen days and then it was a race to see who would hit the water first, me or Hurricane Carla. Board balanced on my head, I ran across the sand but she beat me to it.

     Rough waves wrecked the shoreline for days. Bored, land-locked, I searched for something to do. An overstuffed chair rested comfortably in one corner of my hotel room. Grabbing it by the arm, I dragged it across the tile, out of my room and onto the balcony. I needed to keep an eye on that water out there; check to make sure this surf was unsurfable. Face it, I had nothing to do but stare at the ocean. Well, that and let an octopus brush and braid my bush (wait for it).

     Trusty Mai Tai by my side, I watched and waited and the sea spat rocks at the land. She coughed up all manner of sea creature. She tried to splash the seaweed upon my eyelash. This was the end of the trip. This was my reward for all the hard work I was going to do later based on the notes I took on the backs of coasters.

     I tilted back in the chair, balanced my feet on top of the rail, where they could feel the spray and sipped Mai Tai after Mai Tai. Not too long and I could feel the rise and fall of the sea swell against my memory.

     The waves racked the shore, rolling the boulders against each other, up and back.

     The sign seemed unnecessary, but then, mermaids never listen.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Canada: Getting Stupid

     The winter is not my friend.

     Once upon a time, when I was a young and stupid child, I decided that when I grew up I would move to Alaska. I liked the cold. Fifty-shmifty. Just you try to send me off the school with a jacket. Turn away one second and: bam! Jacket’s stuffed to the bottom of the Lost and Found; buried beneath a dozen unclaimed unwashed gym uniforms. I liked the snow, too. I’d seen plenty of it before: on television and once in the seventh grade. Snow was like frosting. Snow was like Care-a-Lot, all fluffy clouds and fun runs hosted by fat, fuzzy bears. Cush. I was gonna live there.

     Then I realized that snow is one: not soft, and two: fucking cold, and I moved to Hawai’i.

     At the time this happened, I was working on my third novel. There’s a snow-mobile chase in it and I lacked the first-hand experience to write the scene properly, so I decided to take a field trip to Canada. I rented a cottage in the woods and dragged my dumb tropical ass up into the heart of winter.

     I was about half way through a handwritten first draft the day the bear arrived. It was a small bear, by any measure, but that didn’t change the fact that it was a bear. And I didn’t know it was there.
Yes, this is me.
     Research time. I stepped outside, dressed like a maniac, ready to learn. What is it like to actually touch the snow? What does it taste like? What is the sensation of spilling off a snowmobile, smacking face down into powder and scrambling away, half running, half swimming? These are the questions I’m here to answer. This is the work I do.

    Pulling cautiously at a glove, I pondered the idea of holding this snow in my real hand. The kettle interrupted me and I jumped at the chance to return to the warmth of the cabin and pour myself a third cup of Earl Grey. I’d be back to work in a moment.

    But I hadn’t accounted for the bear.

    In my haste to leave the snow, I’d left my journal outside. I’d left six months of work on the crackly crust of the drift that surrounded my house. I’d left my baby unattended.

    By the time I emerged again from the house, the bear had my journal in its slobbery mouth.
Bears are mean.

    I’ve never been a mother but I’ve heard it makes you do crazy things. A mother will kill a shark with her teeth to save her young; she’ll lift a bus to free her baby. There is a click and something shuts off in her brain. She becomes teeth and claws and will, like, well, like a mother bear protecting her cubs. Caution to the wind. Danger be damned.

    There must have been some part of me that knew this was terribly wrong. Surely some measure of sanity must have spat out its gag and screamed, “Stop! What are you doing?” If I think back on it now, I can almost hear that little voice, a rational whisper crying out from beneath a sea of instinct. But my body is fast and it didn’t hear the warning in time.

    I woke up, as it were, from my adrenalized rampage with both hands on the book and one foot on the bear. My hands were pulling with all their might. My foot was at the tail end of a kick.

    Go back to your middle school self-defense class for a moment. A stranger grabs you and what do you do? Kick, break away, punch, run. There was a reason they threw in the extra punch: it's to keep the assailant from coming after you once you get yourself free. There was a reason I didn’t: a bear has teeth the size of knives.

     I stood silently in front of the bear I’d kicked, studying his face, clutching my novel to my chest. Was he angry? Scared? Hungry? WTF? We watched each other, gaging next-moves for a few moments. Then it occurred to me that there was no way this bear was alone.

     I have never run so fast. In fact, I don’t think I ran. I think I sprang. One big leap. I reached the door to the cabin, slammed it shut and looked out the window.

     Momma Bear stood staring back.
     I phoned a friend.

     “I think I just pissed off a bear.”

     “What did you do?”

     “I kicked its baby in the balls.”

     She laughed for a very long time.

     I stayed indoors for three days.

How would you fare? Take the test and find out:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Venice: Getting Robbed

“City of Love Alone”

Instructions for the use of this short story: 1. Play the music. 2. Start to read. 3. Get lost in the narrative. 4. Comment and repeat.

     The City of Love tastes lonely alone. For a week I sat in cafes and drank, alternating between the bitter bite of espresso and the sensual bubbles of Proseco that were beginning to taste like failure. The honeystick stink of happy couples wafted through the air inconsiderately and when I wrinkled my nose at one particularly soul-crushing duo, they asked me in slow English if I would take their picture. Yes, let’s lock this moment in; you’re going to need it in about ten years when you’re fat and she’s bored. Or when you’re bored and she’s fat. I don’t care which. One of you is going to be bored and the other fat and good luck after that.

     My god, what’s wrong with me?

     I took the picture and handed them the camera back, more than a little disgusted with my running monologue.

     Venice makes you want a man like no other city.

     I had one once but he left me standing in six inches of slimy water. A different one found me a few days later but it was a whole weird thing. I don’t really want to talk about it.

     Needing a change of scenery, I boarded a water taxi, tired of that slippery romantic word—gondola—unrolling like a condom on my tongue. It took me where it wanted to.

     I disembarked and walked with a knowing stride through the twilight of the city. Where was I walking? Into the neon flame, as always, attracted by the presence of alcohol, drawn into the grungy underbelly of the city.

      Inside, the low light did nothing to hide the black-fire eyes of a man I’d seen before. The long, thin cut of his trousers hugged the length of his long, thin legs. I wanted to share clothes with that man; slip in alongside.

     I ordered a scotch and leaned dangerously far over the lip of the bar. It was here that he noticed me.

     Many of my friends would punch a man in the face for that look; that unbroken stare that climbs up one leg and down the other; that gaze that rolls over the hill of my hip before heading north and wandering along the edge of the low cut at the top of my unlucky green dress.

     But I kept my profile to him, allowing only a slight smile to ribbon-curl the corners of my mouth before raising the glass and taking in the musky sensuality of a good drink.

     Uninhibited, unlike his American cousins, he sauntered over, took my free hand and led me, drink and all, onto the dance floor.

     I wanted to complain: I don’t know how to dance, not with a man. Where I come from, the men line up along the walls and watch, leaving the women to fend for themselves, like so much else in American romance.

     He placed a soft hand just above my hip and under his expert lead, I could follow. No words passed between us, only movement and the occasional electric brush of skin. He leaned in close to me and I could feel his warm breath in my ear before I heard the words.

     “A beautiful woman should never have to drink alone,” he said.

     At least, that’s what I think he said. I don’t speak Italian.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Palau: Getting Wasted

"The Long Wait"

I see myself in this picture; the years I stood with my own nose pressed to the glass.

A bar is like a secret society when you're six. It's forbidden and irresistible.

You can't see much through the tinted glass, only shadows gliding through the mystery. Sometimes, a stray beam of light would catch in a glass and for a moment, just for a moment, the room would light up and I'd see the future. But it was a distant future. For a kid, a week is too long. What is 15 years? May as well be forever.

How long before these iron bars soften and I can squeeze my way through?

This was surely me. You who have read the "Getting Wasted" stories know. You who have lived the "Getting Wasted" stories know better. I am this little boy with his face pressed against the dark glass of the dive bar, back to the ocean, taste of hops a dream on the tongue.

This is the next generation of me.

I kid you not. The boy in this picture, taken almost a year ago now, is my little brother. It's in the genes.

Here's to the future.

Sam's a meanie.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Comoros: Getting Hungry?

     It started out the way all mornings do on the Comoros: with fried bread, a bowl of rice and a cup of the worst coffee in the world. The taste of charred Eucalyptus lingered stubbornly despite diluting it one to one to one with sugar and condensed milk. I’m not exactly sure why I kept choking down their terrible attempts at coffee. Some part of me, it seems, needed to believe there was one cafe in this country that knew it’s java; one dusty market where the coffee poured out black and smooth and perfectly roasted. I never gave up hope of finding this Shangri-La and I never found it.
     My friends and I left our cups (practically untouched) on the table and strolled towards the shoreline. We’d negotiated a good price for the journey out to the famed Emerald bay, to sail, snorkel, fish and dine. It was almost the best thing we did in the Comoros. Almost.

     A small swell sent long lines of tiny waves into the sun-bleached sand. On the three day car ride up to the northernmost tip of the island, we’d doled out Dramamine like candy. Now, on the brink of an all-day ocean adventure, we felt bold; we felt strong. We laughed as we tossed the untouched pills overboard. We didn’t feel stupid yet, but we would soon. 

Mark and me, pre-voyage. The idiots have no idea what's in store for them.

     Above us, the sun smiled down while the crew passed out raincoats. We examined them curiously, checking above to make sure the sunshine was not an illusion. A hole ran down the length of my coat; my friend’s had lost its waterproof layer.

     We cast our slickers carelessly aside and lounged beneath the tropical sun. The boat glided across the ocean. Pushing past us with a bucket in his hand, one of the crew members moved to aft: ready position. 
Getting his bucket ready.

     When we neared the eyelet through which we would sail out into the Indian Ocean, we discovered the reasoning behind the jackets and the man with the bucket. He began to bail, pouring the ocean back onto its side of the hull. Defiant, the water continued to invade. It rose to our ankles. We cowered beneath ineffective raingear and discussed our odds for survival. We found them slim.

     The post cards had lied. There were no sparkling emerald green waters that morning. The sea growled gray and white and the wind blew the waves back against themselves and into our raincoats. By the time we made landfall, three fourths of us were as green as we’d hoped the bay would be. We stumbled ashore, rejoicing in the way that sand does not surge when you walk across it.

     Then, the bad news. Lunch would be served only after we’d caught it. The boat crew tried to wave us back aboard. We rustled up a sacrifice; pushed our friend, Mark, back onto the arms of the sailors. Catch us some lunch, Mark. Keep your eyes on the horizon. The rest of us flopped into the sand and rested our uneasy stomachs.
I sunned on that log. Bye, Mark, catch us food!

     I lay on the beach, terribly seasick, asking my friend what would happen if they didn’t catch any fish. I’ve inherited this quirk from my aunt: I’m always wondering what my next meal will be. Even if I’m still eating the previous meal, I can’t help but worry when I’ll see food again and what it will look like when we are reunited once more.
     “I’m sure they have a backup plan in case they don’t catch any.”

     “But what? What will it be? What if I get hungry? I’m scared.”

     My fears were unwarranted. Mark and the crew returned with an octopus and a boat full of snapper. The fish we ate for lunch that day were so fresh they were still alive. I watched the cooks who slapped the still-gasping fish up onto the grill and ran their knives down the sides, pouring olive oil and garlic in through the holes.

     A feast appeared. We sat at a rickety picnic table, our glasses full of rum and coconut milk. A dozen snapper for the six of us. Carrot salad, crab, pommes frites and gallon of coconut rice. We ate until we could not think of eating any more, filling our stomachs until they stretched.

     Just when we’d tackled the meal before us, a parrotfish materialized. We gaped at him in disbelief (him, I knew, because I could see how blue he was, even cooked and covered in crispy garlic). A quote from my journal: “Holy shit. Best meal ever.” Somehow, we managed to stuff the parrot fish into our bulging stomachs. Finished at last, we leaned back as much as one can on a bench, patting our third-trimester food babies.

     Satisfied as we were, the knowledge that we were stranded in the Indian Ocean did not stray far from our minds. We frowned at the sea and it was clear we were all wondering the same thing. Was there any way to avoid returning the way we came? Could we just stay?
We have to go back to the ocean in this boat. Yes, this one.

     With feet of stone, we marched across the sand towards our unseaworthy vessel. In the boat, the crew instructed us to sit backwards.  My friends sat on the bench closest to the bow, so they didn’t see it coming, but I did. Straddled across my bench, I watched as one of the crew members snuck up from behind, a tarp in his hands. He tarped my friends, covered their heads with blue plastic (which alarmed us all) and then returned to his job as the constant bailer.

     “This can’t be good,” I said and tunneled my way under the tarp with them.

     While we’d snorkeled and feasted, napped and made merry, the sea had grown restless. The swells towered to ten feet above us. We rode parallel to them and though I’m not exactly a sailor, I’m pretty sure that’s the wrong way to tackle water that’s taller than your mast. Wave after wave pummeled the boat. We wondered where the life vests were.

     Drenched, Mark crawled out from under the tarp and turned to see where we were going.

     “Okay, get ready,” he told us.

     “I’m so happy I ate all that fish.”

     “Three, two, one.”

     The wave washed over us and spilled out the sides. For a moment, we went underwater.

     And then we were back in the bay, returned to a quiet sea that we drifted over, glad to be alive and well fed.

All photos courtesy of Corey Pargee, 2010.