25 August 2005 | Vol. 5, No. 2

Echolalia Three: Colombia

[Introducing Echolalia]

[Echolalia One: Gathering in South America]

[Echolalia Two: Peru]

Since you've got a girl thats a friend, I haven't heard much of anything from you and had assumed you dead until Toni mentioned something about vancouver. Yeah he told me the story, said you weren't allowed to hang out so he didnt see much of you. Are you under wraps? He'll be coming here shortly, should get ugly.

I passed my thesis defense about two weeks ago, basically the day I got back from Burma. I lost interest in my thesis and school a couple months back, I can't ever go back to school again. I learned more in 48 hours in Burma than I did in 5 years at university. Nobody in any university knows as much as this old burmese dude I met in this bar and he didn't know much. Like those cool folks we met in that bar in Zinguichor, Senegal. So what I'm saying in a long , laborious, like wiping your ass with a q-tip kinda way is that I'm done with school and damn glad.

I got offered a job with the Center for Disease Control in northern Wisconsin after hours of interviewing but I've managed to put off my intent to accept up until now. I'm not sure if its the gig I want. Still looking around a bit and weighing coming home versus never coming home. Where are you going in South America and what is your plan, do you have some objectives linked to school or are you just going to get kidnapped.

Its 1:30 pm, I'm going to the bars.

Winnie Mandela

Bogota's Museo del Oro—the gold museum:

Grimace... mid-flight. The gold-spirit through water. Gold masks have

gold masks hanging from their septums—solid-gold fishhooks

like tiny j's.

        Disco girato... the ring that spirals down the finger. The nonchalance,

        where El Dorado came from.

One Sunday in June, the boy does cartwheels for stopped

traffic for dough.    Breakfast beneath the half-diamond sunroof. Sleep

beneath the red-wool panda blanket. Paramilitaries, tooth and nail,

they try too hard.    Headlong-octopuses. Self-appointed pyramids.

Museum centerpiece: gold raft, gold figures    throwing the golden

into the lake.

The Salt Mine Cathedral, La Catedral de Sal.

Several miles of salt mine & stations of the cross... the cathedral at the end—

enormous cool cavern.        Blue lamps light the way from cross to cross,

light the baptistry-pool, the pews, the altar...        echoes

of tourists. Distance, darkness, perspective—impossible to tell: scale,

god's little trick.

Statues of dimly-lit angels, periodically. Crosses in relief, or solid—their size,

these tunnels. Black rock, blue light, I expect the hidden

to jump, cowled & with lightsaber.

Thirsty from inhaling salt, I do. I lick the walls. Afterwards,

lunch along a lakeshore, between "yacht" clubs. On the flooded valley floor, a town, its steeple a few years below the water's surface. The replacement town built six kilometers up the road. Grilled trout and beer.

Soft cheese with burnt-sugar syrup. We take photographs of Genie and Daniel at the picnic table. They take photographs of us leaning up against a tree, the background lake...like high school portraits, senior pictures.

Todd wearing Daniel's pajama bottoms...

Sarah and I, each with a backpack of dirty clothes, and a month since a full load, washing bits and pieces in our hostel sinks—if the altitude was low enough for it to dry and if we'd be there long enough...

Hi sweet pea, Just wanted to let you know I have two boxes, shipped from you guys to Norman, at my house. I can keep them here, or take them to your apartment—either way is no problem. I love you, and think about you so often—xo, Laura

The Vargas House.

Habeñeros and rose vines twist around each other up the backyard's brick wall.

Daniel and Genie kiss us every morning, every night. We eat lunch, then a couple of hours later we eat onzes, elevens... for the 11 letters of aguardiente. Late dinners, then aguardiente and wine by the fireplace, music... Amalia Rodriguez from Portugal, Celia Cruz from Cuba, Jorge Negrete from México. Daniel translates Spanish to English... Carlos Vives, Juanes from Colombia... tests our English as the song plays. Pleonasm?

Children's books, and evidence of their children, now grown

and living in Ohio, London, Cyprus, Florida,    all over their home. Their daughter Carolina... her poetry notebooks lined on shelves in her bedroom. She calls each night from Ohio... reads us drafts, lines that she is working on.

Roses, mostly pink. Fuschias, geraniums, a vine with pastel-orange blossoms. Yerba buena, wintergreen... lemon leaves and coffee bushes. Daniel and Genie are waiting for the plants to cover the new loops of razor wire installed on top of the wall.

Daniel suntans in the afternoons. Genie is a beautiful laugher, laughs at Daniel... laughs at herself for still laughing at his fart jokes. After all these years I still laugh, she can barely say, for laughing.

We take a walk through their neighborhood in Niza Antigua, listen to the construction of Bogata's world class transit system—Todd and I discuss teeter-totter trust, swing at each of the little parks along the way.

So, Iris is much happier now that I'm back. She hasn't left my side since yesterday. Michael said that she doesn't like him when I'm gone. I find that hard to believe b/c Michael bribes her with the tuna. Love you Sister, Molly.

Sarah, Iris says hi. She has been particularly pathetic the last two days. She greeted me when I got out of the shower with several meows and then hopped into the tub and licked the shower curtain for 20 minutes while I got dressed and brushed my teeth. Love, Michael.

Dear Todd Fredson and Sarah Vap in South America,

I did indeed kiss some goats for you—I know you'd love Cleo, the sleek brown girl with a plump Victorian beauty. She's extra-sweet and has the most human expressions... She has four of the sweetest babies, too: Sinead, O, Sally O'Mally, and little Troden—the smallest and sweetest goat of all, though she's the oldest, too. She loves to be held. So does Sinead, but Sinead bites hair. Love, Tessa Amara

dear endearment...

panda-lovestock, love,


From an agribusiness point of view, a dry and barren cow is an economic abomination. But from the viewpoint of the peasant farmer, the same dry and barren cow may be a last desperate defense against the moneylenders. (Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches, Marvin Harris.)

Botero Museum: Lluvia—rain; or radioactive        fallout,

to keep the bitterness from sorrow. Geysers Behind an Obese Mona Lisa.

See-through cherries over the enormous female nude. Huge fruits—

overripe to the splitting (bright-green walls, a fly on her butt).


Bare-bulb over the sleeping president. Esmeralderos... emeralds in the mud. Buzzard. El Ladrón,

the thief, climbing roofs like Santa Claus.

Red sack, his black cowboy hat.

Babies have faces like grown men. And women, and of course—a fat Leda and a fat swan. Our discomfort

about where things come from. The stems on the still-life with fruit, a little obtrusive.

An abomination of roundness, smoothness and shine. Not flush

like spring/summer, but a different contraction;

opposites kissing, like the center of an hourglass. Contraries, perversions

of the reflected being, how we see ourselves, how we

look out.

Still life: naturaleza muerta (with ice cream). Salvage series...

churlish. Enormous pink man and an enormous pink woman: Matrimonio.

Study of a boy, inclined vase. Color coming out of its well.

Not to fake or to expose, but no, not quite to love. Cardinals, seated. If you carve

water and earth—they're the same.

In hair, distorted buns. And hips and boobs and holes.    Botero celestina, undressing

the feathers on her hat (versus the small bird on her finger).

The fox draped around her shoulders (and the poodle at her feet).

Little cherry on the cheek, to do something more than real. Disfigure, unhinge:

wherever there can be more shape.

Cartagena. Slip-stream, streamline, grieving a wilderness. The horses on cobblestone...

...monkeys chained to trees in Africa, gotten drunk, food flicked at them, hanging from a branch by their collars, a jump they could easily have made. All of us with our dive instinct.

Cartagena's ramparts, fragile cannons. Firing would break them apart. The moon is not quite showing. Layers of clouds and ocean mist, the white break turning. Dark, invisible collapses—

this could be a description of my drink, drinks—at this table, surrounded by other tables

that are covered with blue tarps, chairs tucked under. Finding our way.    The surf,

concurrent versions:

blue orchid, wings of the column streaked with blue;

barbs, points—tack-strips along the wall, at the carpet's edge;

shuttle, not the object, but the burning around it.    Pattern of entry and exit, orchestrating

the scruffle of palms. Silent lightning.

An incredibly soft, almost imperceptible rain at midnight. We leave our hotel,

buy grilled maize on a stick, squirt melted-butter from a ketchup bottle, powdered salt.

Warm, slowly getting wet on the corner, eating and watching.

Three prostitutes share an alcove with the soldier on patrol, wait for the rain to stop. Familiar company.

Taxis pass, we order sausages and fried yucca,

a heavy drizzle of ketchup, mayonnaise. Tourists stumble home, the man in the wheel chair,

wet in the square. A few men stop, talk to him for a moment, then continue... one of the girls darts

out to a taxi. Gets in.

Everyone knows that the man in uniform watched—a safety-feature. Or

complicity.    No funny-business...roundabouts or single file, my dear.

A whole day in our hotel room under the ceiling fan.

On the bed to dry, into the shower to cool. Repeat, repeat.

The shower's a pipe from the wall,

next to the toilet. Founder is someone who establishes groundrules. Foundation.

Founder is hoof-disease that kills who eats too much, used of horses. Laminitis.

Lament I this. You see how it goes,    ripply green and swampiness. Butterflies, fluttery

the garbage along the road; sundown, these thin horses pull tourists

around the old city. Shod hooves on stone eventually crack the shins. Local history museum—headquarters

for the Spanish Inquisition. Roomful of torture devices for Indians

and women, potential witches. The scale decides: not witches!

if they hit the secret weight.

You-K and Todd-K

floated up to the shore of my answer-phone messages—one I saved about 100 days ago—the one where you are sitting on the gift ledge, wanting to be put on Tania's pillow in place of a pretty piece of chocolate...it was like you two were whispering in the hallway. I love you. Mary-K.

Subject line: Wet Cat. Sister, We just gave Iris a bath tonight. She was an absolute angel. I hope you're enjoying the jungle. I miss you. Molly

Lulo juice. I can't stop saying it.

Standing on the Avenida Daniel Lemaitre, we had a beautiful rain. The green-and-white Metrocars, the air-conditioned buses, pass every ten minutes for the local station, the terminal zonal. Non-international routes, northeast along the coast...

I wiped sweat with the hem of my shirt, taking off my sunglasses, wiping my eyes, the top of my nose, which always beads first—just for something to do, like the heat was another thing that would pass. Four Metrocars, full.

We looked for a taxi. A few drops came down. Pedestrians disappeared. We crossed the street, rain and sweat in our hair, globs pause at the tips then drop, gather at our chins—then streaked down our necks. We leaned down to the taxi's window.

Gangs of rain, half-way up the wheel wells.

Two packs of kids throw stones back and forth, our taxi driver panics—drives over submerged curbs.

Santa Marta to Tayrona.

The Tairona civilization existed 500 years before the Europeans came—their descendants live(d) in the Sierra Nevadas of Colombia.

...their societal ideal is to abstain from sex, eating and sleeping while staying up all night, chewing hayo [coca] and chanting the names of ancestors. Each week the men chew about a pound of dry leaves, absorbing as much as a third of a gram of cocaine each day of their adult lives. (One River, Wade Davis.)

The next morning we found the bus that serviced El Zaina in a market in the middle of Santa Marta. The aisle was stuffed with cargo and luggage, but the windows were open. The coolness felt nice. With a warm Gatorade, skewered meat-and-potatoes, and grilled corn, the end kernels black.

The road ran along the edge of Tayrona National Park. As we passed degrees of hills, varieties of green, a few people descended or got on, but there were few villages, mostly individual residences. Some with nurseries, and some with little restaurants out front—open to the roadside, lapped planks, vertical and uneven across the top like teeth.

The voceadore tapped us, "El Zaina," and we got off at one of the restaurants. Across the road was a road running perpendicularly into the forest, canopy-covered, a green tunnel. The trailhead at its end—to Arricefe, the campground where we'd stay. A cold can of Cerveza Aguila first, perhaps that would be best.

"their uniforms look exactly the same, except for the badge..."

At first I thought the Americans might be useful. Six of them, five men with the tattoos & stubble-growth of our extreme-sports generation, shirts advertising an intimacy with mountain biking or climbing products, a few board sports. And that blasé-cool, laissez-faire intensity that comes with technological advances, knowing the right equipment should render any deathtrap a manageable thrill, then back to the office. Basic SUV commercial. And one woman, not sure how to complicate the eager velocity of the conversation.

—"and his gun!" One making sideways, cocked wrist, gun-pointing gestures—our image of inner-city gangsters. Another ran across the road to a vendor, returns with a sachet of airy fried doughballs, shrimp-flavored, texture like pork rinds. "You're not going to eat that..." —Oh yeah.

The men are excited, flashing back to childhood, to primetime Miami Vice. The cartels, modeled after Pablo Escobar—to the Colombia filmed in Mexico. The young Colombian at the end of their table looks disinterestedly at the black lamb Sarah coaxes toward her.

"Man, when he flashed that, I was like..."—they ask, and the guide nods, says, "si, guerillas."

"But I thought"—the woman begins, then lets her hands drop back to the table. She squints for a moment, considering the guide to her right. Sarah and I set our packs at a table behind theirs.

Their packs are piled on a rack welded over the bed of a red pickup out on the shoulder. The boy taking our order says, green truck, and points to the road canopied by jungle. The truck's hood is high and round, and the cab sits on it like someone who has bolted upright from a dream, surprised to be there, a little silly and full of sleep. A '63 or so, though I'm not good at guessing cars and their years. A tarp has been framed over the bed, and two benches are tucked against the sidewalls. The boy has no idea where the driver is.

"Let's get this show on the road," a man with his back to us throws out. He runs his fingers through his hair like his fingers might catch.

Fallen coconuts sprout, start taking root.

The man who showed us the trail said, mas agua que sol. More water than sun. Then walked ahead. Butterflies as large as bats—an orange circle on each black wing.

A leaf, the size of a human torso and shaped like a star, is filled with water.

Red ant lines for miles, each with a tiny wedge of leaf. Lines of green confetti...

two riderless horses with saddles and packs, set to the trail alone, trot

down the jungle path to their home in the campgrounds.

Handmade shawl across her shoulders—a firepit, coffee, the sound of the ocean at night. Dancing between two fires... imagine, violins.

The mica beach's speckled fish

in the hand of a little proprietor, pink plastic flip-flops. Mica braids. Thatch-roof, retaining wall.

The load-bearing wall—hair-raising    because that's her best point.

The moon hidden, nearly full. But the clouds kept it coming and going.

A feeble arabesque, of merbabies and goliaths—millipede,

and the delicate bee on marmelade.            The bulb of driftwood, sleek stump—quartz

        lodged in the grain three times.

How many months rolling up to that beach. Lavender sandcrab, bright blue,

then transparent. Shoo... hyper

little tags.

Hello you. I had Dave come to your place today because it smelled like gas in here. He turned off your stove (and he will return it on when you return). I left the patio door open for a little by his recommendation so as to let out the gas smell. Everything is perfect. The wind slammed your porch door once and a small stack of books fell from your eastern bookshelf. One book fell open so I pulled the first quote that caught the attention of my eye. Here it is: "Welcome to my time." I love you, sweet potato pie. Mary Kay.

An elite 1500-man special unit sought Pablo Escobar, the leader of the Medellín Cartel, for 499 days until it tracked him down and killed him on a rooftop in Medellín, December, 1993. (Lonely Planet)        He began his career in high school, stealing tombstones. Cars.

shell with a seed jammed inside

there is a mountain to know there

Slap, slap—her flippers like palms in the breeze, tracks pushing back toward the surf. Listener, tell her.

Brigadier moon, healing is a way to honor the distance.

adams, I looked at your dad's art online. pretty cool. are you there right now, at the lake, in milwaukee, san francisco, bangkok, hanoi...? work?

did you leave everybody behind? your girlfriend, tanatnan, right? was she sad? how have you gone? seems like a pretty big deep breath kind of move. adjusting and shit again.

up north, on colombia's caribbean coast, in the tayrona national park, sarah and I saw a sea turtle, really prehistoric and huge, like the circumference of a VW bug, laying eggs on the beach— the night before a full moon... both beautiful and terrible. another couple was there watching, and it seemed holy, but the boyfriend ran back to camp, got his camera and told other campers and they came stomping down the beach. this mother was old enough to have known darwin, and maybe she was just backing into the surf to get wet or clean off cause it looked like she was coming back up to the beach. but some guy grabbed her shell and the camera flashes were coming from where she'd just swept out her birthing pit... she just pushed back into the water, slid into the surf. one wash and she was gone. turtles can have heart attacks out of fear of snorkelers hovering above them, making a ceiling where they might surface. the whole episode seemed pretty fucking typical though.

my own career—just kidding; poetry's been good lately. nowhere big like tony's new yorker story, but the southeast review is a nice journal and the poem was a finalist in their "world's best poem" contest. overstatement, like the weed from kounahiri thinking it's competing against the blue velvet café's, "kounahiri gold," with its stems and goat hairs, ounces wrapped in old cement sacks, competing with the "ice" ziplocked in a sleek and miniature baggie.

en tout cas, how are you? headed to the amazon next,



I'm up north in a cabin near the boundary waters. I've been up here for some time now. I may never leave at least until I decide where. Fuck school and jobs, I've had just about enough of that shit. I'm living strictly on credit which should sustain me for months.

You seem to be having a good time. I'm having a wonderful time, I can't get over how clean the air is and how peaceful, billions of gooks everywhere can drive a guy mad.

The tomfoolery with Toni in Bangkok and Hanoi was good and it was difficult to say goodbye to my girlfriend. I plan on seeing her again though.

Goodbye for now you river weary queer.

If I'm going to try to say something about a window, it's this: the tide has finally reached my toes.

The full moon has enticed a bullfrog to croak for hours, his dreamwork in one ear out the other. Or,

a girl who's never been born—her children. A decoy-

nest—yellow, blue and red thread wrapped around tiny wooden

divots. Tied in bows on our wrists—now, we're cargo, taken seriously.

Dormez-vous predicates the turtle who lays her eggs in front of us while we cuddle. Jungle-airstrip,

shipping-lane—the greatest blessing we need. And who humiliates her,

the slap on her ass, the flashes.

Diagnostician: there's grease on the bus windows.

Exhibitionist: it's a calabash pipe, a sea.

Todd and Sarah. Come in please...

I know you've been very busy in Medellín but we really need to hear from you soon...please check in and let us know you're OK. Love you. Mom

Landslide, bus delay. Morning coming over the hill. He is close to—

When the hill turns white with mist, herd after herd of pure-white cows—listen...

I'm just helping you face yourselves. At the station,

a poster:

three missing American soldiers pictured above their crashed copter, shades of our flag's colors in the background, hazy primaries. 13 MILLION PESOS for information leading to their recovery, and a picture somewhere in the states—Florida, perhaps: you get AN AMERICAN VISA.

He is close to, fighting off, the invocation of two worlds.

dear mom.

yes, it's been busy and amazing. we are not only okay, we are fantastic. enjoying the poetry festival, getting some work done, etc. colombians have been so kind, helpful everywhere we've been. the countryside is beautiful, and the cities are the most "developed" that we've seen in south america. the drug war is just like our war on terrorism, a marketing scheme to provide for our major industries, our multinationals and government corps. military and pharmaceutical control. people making big money are chemical companies who provide the fertilizer, the ingredients that transform extract of coca into the paste that makes cocaine. whereas coca itself is a plant that provides more vitamins and minerals than the R.D.A. when chewed, as the indigenous cultures have always done— and when combined with a lime extract, as from shells or certain plants, it fights fatigue and cold, providing a sensation of well-being. coca cola still imports coca leaves for flavor in its beverage. it was originally a health drink, a tonic—the recipe consisted of cocaine, kola nuts from africa (caffeine), and tonic water (mineral water) with a few other things i think.1

sarah's brother, david, and his wife margaret had their baby two nights ago.

i love you. todd.

If the mountain is a friend...

The home-made balloon, lit by a small cup of kerosene, lifts like the hide of a covered wagon.

Phantom of a burned crossing, ribs exposed.

The old man scratches his head. Impatient and slightly amused by the other poet reading—woman. Bell-shaped flowers

from the tree. Sherbert-orange, and a yellow, which has no shades.

Perhaps the gods are telling us something about closure, Sherwin whispers.

Afternoon clouds spread gray. The smoke of a bottle rocket; small differences

mark nearly identical betrayals.

Fireworks interrupt the poet each time the team from Medellín scores a goal.


Thanks for the update. I'm glad all is good! Did you meet some people at the poetry festival? Interesting about the indigenous people and the cocoa leaves. I wonder how long the women lived compared to the men and if they ever got to chew the leaves? Probably they just got to work hard. Historically women have gotten the short end of the stick in ancient and even current cultures. I want to loan my book, Many Lives, Many Masters to Sarah when you get here. If she would like to read it. I have been going to a good counselor—one who does hypnotherapy. Maybe for the collective consciousness of all women! We are doing some "deep work." I'm feeling good about it. I have to drive way up to Redmond to see her! Gotta go get ready for work. It's hard for me to get energized enough in the morning to get to work by 7:30! Summer hours.

Your dad just keeps getting more and more leads on Orre Nobles. Dick Terrill and his wife are supposed to be coming up here after the 4th. Love you both bunches and miss you!

Be Safe,


Morgane Sienna Vap was born at 6:33 am on Saturday, June 25.

Botero's statue, plump bronze bird, made into a street bomb. A retaliation

against past poetry readings, against "Una Paz Más Activa Que Todas Las Guerras."

Bee on the sidewalk rubbing itself dry, clean of coffee, shreds of tobacco rubbed

from a cigarette's wet, transparent skin near my feet.

"El Alma Es Contagiosa"

One part thinks of the man riding his bike carrying an outboard over one shoulder,

One part thinks of the pressure of my elbow resting on your hip, arm on your thigh, hand on your knee—

how much pressure is too much, how light is too light of a touch...

that stretch of tenderness

yes, if the earth is like the sky

poems from Carolina Vargas:


Between the tangerine

and reason

there is a border-


leaking into

one another

like the sea

        into land.

And yet, birds


and cross

        the difference

without ever knowing

there was



The December day she crossed the plaza at ten zero five in a cream-white dress followed by three dogs, the glass eyes of the beggar and the stale smell of bread was the last time the mango tree would shade her from the morning's heat. Late by five minutes, she was going to the church to marry Cornelius, dead for nine and a half years, whom she had loved since that morning when she read his obituary in the Sunday paper.

Away from me

an island

pushes in

to it self

and breathes

out a long

fire fly


External Links

Fernando Botero: http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/botero_fernando.html

International Poetry Festival of Medellín: http://www.epm.net.co/VIIfestivalpoesia/

Sherwin Bitsui: http://bitsui.mantaka.biz/bio.php

Wade Davis: http://www.wade-davis.com/


"What about coca?" I asked.

"That's the strange thing. The Indians say that the plant was discovered when the first mother lost her child. They mean, of course, the primordial mother, the essence of Pachamama. She is Maria, but she is also Mamacoca. In a sense she is both woman and the plant itself. The legend is pretty simple. Sad, lonely, stricken by grief, she wanders through the forest. Casually she tastes a leaf, only to find that it relieves her hunger and eases the pain. And that's probably what really happened. Some hunters on the move, hungry, perhaps lost, came upon a coca plant. The leaves are relatively tender, especially the new growth. Certainly edible, an obvious famine food.

"To this day coca leaves are brought into the United States by the Stepan Chemical Company of Maywood, New Jersey, the only legal importer in the country. Once the cocaine has been removed and sold to the pharmaceutical inustry, the residue containing the essential oils and flavonoids is shipped to Coca-Cola.

"In the United States a series of laws increasingly circumscribed its use and availability. In 1922 cocaine was condemened as a narcotic, which it is not, and within a decade the public became convinced that it was a dangerous addictive drug, used only by musicians, artists, and assorted degenerates...

"During the short history of European and American fascination with the drug, virtually no one drew a distinction between cocaine and coca... Coca became associated with opium, and the public was led to believe that the ruinous effects of habitual opium use would inevitably befall those who regularly chewed coca leaves. Thus a mild stimulant that had been used with no evidence of toxicity for at least two thousand years before Europeans discovered cocaine came to be viewed as an addictive drug.

"This was just the opening that a number of Peruvian physicians had been looking for. For the most part these men were liberal, with a concern for the plight of highland Indians that in its intensity was matched only by their ignorance of Indian life... Since political issues of land, power, oppression, and raw exploitation struck too close to home, forcing them to examine the structure of their own world, they settled on coca... Carlos Enrique Paz Soldan raised the battle cry: 'If we await with folded arms a divine miracle to free our indigenous population from the deteriorating action of coca, we shall be renouncing our position as men who love civilization.'

"In a report published in 1947 by the Peruvian Ministry of Public Education, he wrote, 'The use of coca, illiteracy and a negative attitude towards the superior culture are all closely related.'

"In June 1974, while he was back at Harvard, Tim and his immediate boss at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Jim Duke, had obtained a kilogram of sun-dried coca leaves from the Chapare region of Bolivia and arranged for the first comprehensive nutritional assay... All along Tim had maintained that coca was benign, that the amount of cocaine in the leaves was small and absorbed in association with a host of other constituents which no doubt mediated the effect of the alkaloid. It was, he suggested, analogous to coffee or tea... He often quoted the physician William Golden Mortimer, who as long ago as 1901 reminded his profession that the effect of cocaine no more represents the effect of the leaves than prussic acid in peach pits represents the effect of peaches.

"Coca had been found to contain such impressive amounts of vitamins and minerals that Duke compared it to the average nutritional contents of fifty foods regularly consumed in Latin America. Coca ranked higher than the average in calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. It was also much higher in calcium, phosphorous, iron, vitamin A, and riboflavin, so much so that one hundred grams of the leaves, the typical daily consumption of a coquero in the Andes, more than satisfied the Recommended Dietary Allowance for these nutrients as well as vitamin E. The amount of calcium in the leaves was extraordinary, more than had ever been reported for any edible plant. This was especially significant. Until the arrival of the Spaniards there were no dairy products in the Andes, and even today milk is rarely consumed. The high level of calcium suggested that coca might have been an essential element of the traditional diet, particularlay for nursing women.

"Andean peoples often take coca after meals, explaining that the leaves, which they consider a "hot" substance, balance the "cold" essence of potatoes, which form the basis of their diet... [S]tudies recently completed, suggested that coca helps regulate glucose metabolism and possibly enhances the ability of the body to digest carbohydrates at high elevation.

"The deadline for the elimination of coca established in 1961 by the United Nations expired in 1986. The Peruvian effort went nowhere. Today the eradication campaign is being spearheaded by the American government, which has a new set of good intentions and an even greater ignorance of Indian life... In the Andes to use coca is to be Runakuna, of the people, and the chewing of the sacred leaves is the purest expression of indigenous life."

(Wade Davis, One River)

[Echolalia Four: Brazil]

About the author:

Todd: "Sarah reads a lot. Is a very fast reader (and walker). Sarah likes watching adorable children, innocent creatures, really. She leaves cupboards and drawers open--this refusal of closure is a form of delicacy. Which she also practices very early in the morning, via Ashtonga yoga. Failed handstands often disturb the neighbor downstairs. Her cat, Iris, however, is strangely attracted to the borderline recklessness and settles in on the mat where sarah's feet must inevitably land. Sarah shares a gift-ledge between apartments with Mary Kay Zeeb, a middle-ground for unseen kindnesses, the sort of objective tenderness Sarah learned playing faux team sports as a child (relay swimming and showing/riding horses)."

Sarah: "Todd Alan Fredson is both massive and precise. As a child he dreamed of playing soccer in the Olympics, and watching a Mike Tyson fight live. He would tell you he's sixth generation from Mason County, Washington. Todd thinks about his family, and Mason County, always--and they're present to him though he's not there right now. He served in the Peace Corps in west Africa--the Ivory Coast. He is currently at Arizona State University in the M.F.A. program for poetry--though this summer he is traveling around South America with me. (Sarah.) He has won many prizes, and published many beautiful poems... but that's only a small part of his greater wonderfulness.

"Todd's an enthusiastic actor, a voracious eater, a complicated dancer, and is magnetic... he is approached by anyone everywhere about god knows what. In the past few hours he has given a man an apple, been asked to buy Valentine's Day cards, drugs, and some mysterious proposition including Playa Blanca (White Beach). Also, Todd notices things. For example, driving past the amusement park north of Bogota, he pointed out an enormous statue of a naked man, green like The Hulk, with a crown and a torch... the Colombian naked-man statue of liberty.

"Todd's a host of angels, a gam of whales, a mob of daffodils and a covey of thoughts. He's titillation, kindness, and magic."

For further reading:

See the complete list of work by Todd Fredson & Sarah Vap at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 5, No. 2, where "Echolalia Three: Colombia" ran on August 25, 2005. List other work with these same labels: nonfiction, travel writing, collaboration.

42opus is an online magazine of the literary arts.

copyright © 2001-2011
XHTML // CSS // 508