While organizing our DVD collection the other day, I stumbled across the “classic” (said tongue in cheek) movie, “Dances With Wolves”, with Kevin Costner. In the movie, Kevin played a soldier who, at a remote Army outpost, assimilates with the local Indians and gets his name, Dances With Wolves, because of his interaction with the wolves.
Which leads me to today’s story.
The story of when I planted bamboo in Guatemala. And – just for the record – let me start right off by saying, if ANYONE ever asks you if you want to plant bamboo – especially in Guatemala – just say no. Let me repeat that: Just. Say. No.
“But why, Drama Queen?” you may ask. “What can be so horrific about planting bamboo?”
Well, Dear Readers - I will tell you why it’s horrific. I have first-hand experience. And it wasn’t pretty.
The time was 2005. The place was La Nueva Providencia, a very small village in the western highlands of Guatemala. We had traveled there that summer with the intention of building a school for the children of the village.
The construction was going very well – so well, in fact, that the village leaders approached us one day with an additional project that they needed help with. The village mayor, Cux (pronounced “Coosh”), hesitantly walked up and said, “Can you help us plant bamboo on the mountain?”
Well – I’m always up for an adventure – and honestly, this sounded pretty tame – I mean, how tough can it be to plant bamboo? On a mountain? I looked at my friends, who were initially hesitant, and said, “Oh, come on! How many opportunities do you get in a lifetime to plant bamboo on a mountain in Guatemala? Let's do it!”
So, several of us enthusiastically said, “Sure, Cux! We’d LOVE to help you plant bamboo on the mountain! Lead the way!” (Okay – I exaggerate on the enthusiasm – perhaps I was the only one enthusiastic. The rest of my group was still hesitant. Little did I know they were the smart ones.)
Cux led us on a hike – where we began climbing…and climbing… through a very thick jungle – up and up and up a very, VERY steep mountainside. You all know what a 90-degree right angle looks like, right? This damn mountain was seriously at a 75-degree angle. At one point, I started sliding back down the mountain, and so instinctively, I reached out to grab the nearest tree to hold on to – and I just about put my poor, unsuspecting hand around the tree of death. The tree trunk was literally covered with thousands of killer thorns. Killer thorns! Only the hand of God stopped me from grabbing that tree – I have no other explanation for what stopped me at the last second from grabbing that damn tree.
After sweating, sliding, hiking and panting – we reach the part of the mountain where Cux wants the bamboo planted. There, in front of us, is a pile of bamboo “plantings” – stalks about 3-feet long in length, about 4 inches wide.
Piece of cake, I think. We’ll dig a little hole, plant that little sucker in there just like a tree, and voila! Bamboo planted! Right? Right?
Cux picks up a stalk of bamboo and gives us the shocking news that bamboo is NOT planted vertically, like a tree – but is planted horizontal.
Whah??? Repeat that, please?!?!
“Yes”, Cux explains. He says we must dig a “trench” – 4-feet long, 9” deep – and lay the bamboo in lengthwise. And we have about 50 stalks to plant.
By about this time, the other volunteers are shooting me dirty looks and cursing me under their breath for getting them into this project…but I plead ignorance. How was I supposed to know?
So – we gamely pick up our hoes…and here, I must insert – these are not your ordinary, American garden hoes. Oh no. These hoes were handmade by the men in Guatemala, which we are borrowing. Men in Guatemala are short. Very short. So – imagine hoes that the Munchkins in Oz would be using. Those are the hoes WE were using. To say it was back-breaking work, as we had to lean way, way over to dig that trench – is an understatement,
We bend way, way over – begin hacking and digging our way into the dirt – which is not easy, because this is the floor of a jungle and so the ground is hard, rocky, and full of roots and debris…and while we’re bent over at the waist, digging and hacking, we’re holding on to anything we can (with the exception of the trees of death) for dear life so we don’t slide right off the face of the steep, steep mountain…and we laugh.
What else can we do at this point? We laugh – at the absurdity of what we’re doing. We get our first trench dug after about 45 minutes of digging, sweating, cursing, sliding, hurting, and laughing – and I lay the bamboo stalk in – and cover it back up with the mountain soil. I stomp on it a few times for good measure to really pack that soil down.
“There!” I said gamely. “That wasn’t so bad! One done – 49 to go!”
About that time, another volunteer, Kathy, looks at my ankles in curiosity, and says, “Why is the dirt on your ankles moving?”
“What?” I said….”Dirt doesn’t move….are you okay, Kathy? Are you hallucinating in this heat?”
I look down at my ankles to see what she’s talking about – and there I see a sight that can only be described as something out of a Stephen King horror movie. I see that both of my ankles are covered…by a moving mass of….not dirt….but ants.
Thousands and thousands of ants…crawling over my ankles…beginning to bite…and seriously, freaking me out. I can handle a lot of things – but not ants. On my body. Crawling all over me. Biting me.
To this day, I have no conscious memory of what happened next. Local legend has it that I began running – straight down the mountainside – screaming like a Guatemalan Howling Monkey – and ran until I eventually found a stream at the base where I plunged both feet into the water – thereby mass-murdering thousands of ants in one plunge of frantic desperation.
The villagers in La Nueva Providencia still talk about the blonde woman they know only as “Runs With Ants.”
And needless to say – the bamboo didn’t get planted that day on the mountain. And if anyone EVER asks me to plant bamboo – EVER – I will just laugh. And I will walk away.