Homeless on Native Land
We slept outside a school that night.
Ania and I were stuck in Carti with few options. At least this one had shelter from the rain.
“After three and a half months of traveling, we’re finally doing it,” I said. “We’re finally sleeping on the street like bums.”
We laid down. Five minutes later, a guy in military fatigues came over. He shined his flashlight on us and smiled.
“No, it’s not a problem for you to sleep here,” he said. “I’m on patrol till the morning. I’ll pass by through the night to make sure you’re all right.”
He walked away.
It was the first time someone smiled at us on the island.
“Something’s wrong with this place,” Ania said. “The pueblo is mean to us and the military police is nice. I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. I’ve never wanted to get on a boat so bad in my life. Captain Fierra better show up tomorrow.”
The next day I woke up sore from sleeping on concrete. It rained hard at least 15 times during the night. I walked to the dock and looked around. No Fierra. No cargo boat.
I bought gringo-priced milk and mixed it with oatmeal for breakfast.
Breakfast always helps.
A little girl named Charlyn came by while Ania and I ate in the school courtyard. She was a local. A Kuna Yala. We spoke mostly about her drawing classes. I think she was six years old.
Then an older woman walked by. She yelled something in the Kuna language and Charlyn ran away.
We packed our bags and headed back to the one restaurant on the island. The one where the waitresses hated us.
We ordered two coffees and were surprised to be served. We sat there, sipping slowly with the Argentinian couple and their baby. A family took them in for the night. Babies are good for pity.
Felix was gone though. He left early in the morning with a Chilean yacht sailor. There was space for one more person on the yacht and Felix grabbed it.
Nothing happened for the next four hours. I watched the water and waited for Captain god damn Fierra.
One boat appeared in the afternoon and we got excited. Then it docked on another island and we sat back down.
After that there was a blurry, gray period. I don’t know how long it lasted.
I came back when a blonde woman appeared on the island.
She was a photographer from New York. Ania and I talked to her. Interrogated her. We asked her how the Kuna Yala had been treating her.
“Not so great,” she said. “They don’t like foreigners on their territory unless you follow the rules.”
“Rules? What rules?”
“There’s a lot of rules. Just to be here and take pictures I have to pay the head chief of the island a special commission, visitor taxes for the entire Kuna Yala region, and I also have pay each person I photograph one dollar.”
We told her we slept outside the school. We told her about the evil waitresses.
“Of course they don’t like you. If you’re not paying to sleep upstairs and you only buy coffee you aren’t contributing anything to their community. They don’t see any reason to be nice to you. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they don’t really like having visitors. They just do it for the money.”
There was silence for a minute.
“Okay, but why should we be forced to contribute to their community?” I said. “We’re not tourists enjoying the scenery or anything. We’re waiting for a cargo boat. We’re just stuck here and getting shit on.”
The conversation ended after that.
The day went on. The afternoon turned into night. Nothing happened for a long time.
Then, out of that nothingness, a Russian appeared.
We got a few beers.
He talked about St. Petersburg. He talked about Putin. He also talked about a train that runs straight through Siberia. A week-long journey from Moscow to the Pacific.
Siberia sounded damn good after two days in Carti.
Ania and I finished our drinks and set up camp outside the school again …
… hoping to see Captain Fierra in the morning and strangle him a little.
Carti, Comarca Kuna Yala, Panama - © Diego Cupolo 2011