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The Road from Home (abridged) April 30, 2008

Posted by Benji in Journal.
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Wednesday afternoon in downtown Guayaquil: It’s hot and bustling as usual. Men in business suits and women in two-tone work uniforms are walking back from their lunch hours, filled up on fish ceviche or rice and fried meat or potato yapingachos. An English textbook in hand, I’m just now going to work myself. I’m trying to blend in with the packs of Latinos; I have on my stony street face (learned back in Brooklyn), but my blue eyes betray me. And if I were to open my mouth, well, then, all bets are off – my Spanish is on-par with a preliterate child. I sigh quietly to myself and keep moving.

Weaving between the street vendors who sell small red apples in large plastic bags, lottery tickets, and toothpaste to pedestrians and passengers on passing buses, I stop cold on the corner before my school. A body is sprawled out in the street, though it’s not garnering much attention from passers-by. A moment’s hesitation: Is this a homeless man or someone who’s had too much to drink? No, there’s a pool of blood forming around his head. No, this is not good.

I lapse into gringo EMT, kick into a sprint – leaving all knowledge of Spanish behind me – and try to explain to the security guard at my school that he needs to call an ambulance. (Oh, how I wish I still had those left-behind Spanish skills!) People have seen me running and now they’re curious. I return to the body with a small crowd. A second hesitation, this one moral: I don’t have a pair of latex gloves on me – should I act as a first-responder or stand back? Before I can answer myself, I’m already crouching in the street, checking for a pulse. As if in a made-for-TV movie, a woman steps forward to help me express myself in Spanish. The bleeding man is becoming conscious again, and he certainly doesn’t like that a tall white boy is trying to keep him from moving his head and neck.

Eventually Cruza Roja shows up and takes control. I slowly fade into the background, the people’s attention still focused on the bloodied man. I offer my name to a police officer, but am perplexed when he brushes me away. Did my efforts go unnoticed? Disappointed, I look over to the mob again and spot my translator friend. She smiles widely at me before disappearing into the crowd.

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