How DO you judge people?
While travelling through the minefield of life we are blessed to meet some truly amazingly wonderful folk. We are also cursed to meet some dishonest, disloyal and disrespectful people not to mention encountering hostile, hypocritical and humourless riffraff. In summary, lowlife assholes. As colourfully portrayed in the title of this piece, an expression first heard about 60 years ago from my dad. A phrase, I’m afraid, I can’t un-hear nor unstick from my memory.
Vomit inducing bullshitting claptrap.
I took this photo and overheard the conversation. The older guy was obviously one of life’s success stories sitting there with his finely toned body in his designer clothes and shoes and exuding experience and wisdom. It was all about what an incredibly amazing man he was. The young couple were totally captivated by him. Then he went in for the kill. His piece de resistance was:
“Oh, I left my wallet back at my house, do you think you could buy me a drink?”
It was that simple and as subtle as a bucket of shit.
They were so enraptured that, of course, they did.
WHAT A FUCKING CHARLATAN. Situations like this make me very angry. I had to walk away.
I have developed a method over the years, which definitely cannot be considered fool proof: “Would I want to be trapped in the corner of a bar with a particular person?”
Anyway, let me introduce some random characters I met on my recent travels.
From the killing fields.
I was sitting outside the front of my hostel in Ocotal in Nicaragua with a cold beer. A few hours earlier I’d had a particularly ridiculous border crossing [this absurd tale is covered elsewhere in our blogs]. I was reflecting on the vicissitudes of my fellow humans, notably officious pricks otherwise known as passport officers! A little man, so obviously not local, approached me and asked if I spoke English.
He was so relieved with my response. He explained he could speak zero Spanish and he needed to talk to somebody.
After eventually hearing his story I realised he was craving human contact in a language he understood.
After a few beers he really started to open up. He was from Cambodia and called Charley – ironic given the pejorative use of that name by the Americans when they were systematically ravaging the region. He is a politician in the opposition party. The current prime minister served under Pol Pot – and we all know what an awfully nice bunch of people they were, NOT – he is effectively a dictator.
Charley was forced to flee the country with his family. They made it to Malaysia before the prime minister sent thugs to finish him off. He ran again (ensuring his family were safe) and headed to Panama, the only country he could enter easily without a formal visa, then on to Nicaragua avoiding Costa Rica (he’d have had problems there).
It humbled me to realise we in the west have it super easy flitting in and out of countries, with a few exceptions, seemingly on a whim – viruses notwithstanding! His intention was to get to Mexico where he could hook up with other Cambodian exiles. From there he’d endeavour to get into the USA and, with the help of the Cambodian community, on to the UN to talk about the oppression in his country.
Out of the frying pan into the fire.
It gradually became clear he was desperately looking for help to cross the border into Honduras. I gave him lots of tips and addresses etc in Honduras. He was escorted on the bus ride to the frontier and pointed out the moneychangers and which queue to get in.
I was really tempted to take him across the border but given my negative experiences only the day before this would have looked really suspicious.
It was with a heavy heart that, after hugging, I watched him disappear out of sight into the Honduras side of the border with no way of knowing if he’d get through.
I did get a selfie of Charley and me but only after we’d both had several beers.
Sober the next day I realised it would be irresponsible to show that photo anywhere.
Given the uncertainties surrounding the Corona Virus situation he was heading into I think of Charley on a daily basis. I also reflect on how fortunate I am in comparison.
A little indulgence. In the 1980s Greenpeace had 7 ships each with a dedicated general manager. It was my good fortune to be the boss of the Sirius. I had strong emotional connections with the ship over 35 years. Not least of which would be many, many really intense direct actions, oh and meeting two of my wives and conceiving one of my children. More about that stuff at later dates. One of my responsibilities as ship’s manager was to select crew.
I made some, I like to think, inspired choices of crewmembers. I also made some disastrous fuck up choices.
What’s often bothered me is how many people I turned down who would have actually been good choices. It was so hard playing god and not one of the more positive aspects of my otherwise amazing job. I was reminded of all this when I met Charley.
How did I know Charley was bona fide? How did I know he was not a charlatan? Given I’ll never see him again, unless on a chance viewing of him addressing the UN. I simply have no idea if he was genuine or not. It was a gut appraisal.
And there you have it, its really difficult to judge people on face value; it all comes down to basic instinct.
A week after I left Charley at the border I got a text message from a no caller ID number: “Made it into Honduras. Next stop Mexico. Thank you my friend. Charley.”
I’ve no idea how he got my phone number.
In a previous blog about snakes I mentioned visiting an organic coffee farm in Matagulpa, Nicaragua. The farm was 2 kms from the main-road and after my visit, a late lunch and a couple of cold beers I set off up the hill to find a bus. After awhile a huge 4 x 4 pulled up and asked if I wanted a lift. Hell yes.
It turned out the driver, Edie, was the retired owner of the farm and now he was pursuing his passion as a historian. We had a really animated discussion ranging from history, culture and through politics. We were so absorbed I was surprised at one point to realise we were way past my bus stop and heading into town. When I pointed this out he said he was enjoying the conversation so much he’d drop me at the door of my hostel. I didn’t complain.
As we neared town he suddenly stopped me and asked, “what is your name”?
When I told him he became really excited telling me that he was writing a book about a certain Orlando Roberts. Apparently my namesake was an adventurer, pirate, mercenary and rogue, but all in all a pretty good chap – should go without saying. Small world eh? Of course when I got back on to the Internet I Googled him. Thus far I haven’t found anything – I’ll keep digging. Perhaps he left a small-unclaimed fortune to the Roberts clan!
An interesting encounter given we both came from opposite ends of the political and socio economic spectrum – he from the right me the left, he rich me poor and homeless. We’re never likely to meet again but I treasure the chance happenstance.
A shot in the dark.
There was one character that I was close to. We never met. I was in San Pedro Sula, Honduras (more about this town in a later blog), and in the early hours of the morning I was awoken by the unmistakable sound of small arms gunfire. Close. Very close.
Now then, I might not always be the smartest guy around but my instincts and spinelessness are pretty good. I dived on the floor. Common sense now told me not to put the light on nor look out of the window. When my bum started to go numb from the hard floor I reasoned they could just as easily shoot me on my bed as on the floor. I opted for the bed. But after that initial intense fusillade of gunfire there was silence for the rest of the night.
After several restless hours I got up with the sun. Walking past a relaxed woman on the front desk I arrived at the front door and gingerly looked out. Life seemed perfectly normal for that time of morning. Timidly I ventured forth for my coffee.
Everybody in the café was super relaxed verging on jolly. This was my third visit to this café and I reacquainted myself with a bookseller I’d met on previous mornings. He was always very keen to practice his English so I plucked up courage to ask him discreetly what had happened during the night. He replied:
“Oh a man was shot. But don’t worry he really was one of the bad ones.”
As he said this he simultaneously tapped his nose, winked and smiled.
Obviously one character I was glad not to meet on my travels! As an old friend annoyingly and frequently reminds me: