Sayaboury, Laos – Day 4

I woke up early on my fourth day in Laos, and enjoyed a little peace and quiet while reading a book on the patio of my bungalow. Little did I know that one of my past mistakes would come to haunt me on this day.

This is not the only trip that I have been on where I roughed it with the elephants hanging out nearby. About eight years ago I was lucky enough to be able to travel to Tanzania where I was able to experience these majestic animals out on safari.

Of course, there are some differences between African elephants and Asian elephants. First of all, African elephants are a lot bigger, and they have ears that look like the continent of Africa. They also haven’t been domesticated in the same way that the Asian elephants have, so there might have been a time when they resembled each other more, but this is not the case any more. Despite these differences, there are many factors that make them similar.

One of these similarities is threads of hair that can be found on their tails. It is not like the hair that can be found anywhere else on their body because it is a lot coarser. It feels a lot like wire if you ever get the opportunity to ever rub it between your fingers. Elephants use it to clean their genitalia, especially with female elephants, by swatting it with the coarse hair. The thing is that many people think that because it is hair, it will grow back quickly which is not the case. But because of this belief, many of the owners of the elephants will clip off the hair, braid it together, and sell it as a bracelet or a ring. Many people end up buying them as mementos and it encourages the selling of more of these bracelets. Elephants lose the hair that they need in order to keep themselves clean which can eventually lead to painful diseases and in some cases cause elephants to have problems with giving birth. So something that appears innocent at many of these tourists camps where this practice goes on, actually contributes to the depletion of the species.

This is where my past came back to haunt me. When I was out in Tanzania while we were traveling between national parks, we stopped at a gift shop on the side of the road to pick up mementos of our trip out there. One of the things I always look for on my trips is something I can hang on my Christmas tree that helps to remind me of all the places in the world I have been at. This particular time I had found a nice wooden carving of a giraffe’s face, but when I went to check out the man who was selling me the item hounded me about buying one of these elephant hair bracelets. At the time I thought it was just wire because that is what elephant hair looks like. The man claimed that if I wore it, it would make me strong. I still wasn’t interested in it, but he continued to pester me about it, and I considered it an act of charity to buy one off of him even if it was a sham.

My wife and her family has continuously made fun of me for making this purchase. They tell me that I need to be strong and learn how to say no from time to time. It wasn’t until this trip that I learned the truth about my purchase which made me feel even more miserable. If I had known what I was buying was genuinely an elephant hair bracelet and what damage I was doing, I would not have done it, but I had never been educated about it. It takes trips like this to help me learn about these small things in the world. And hopefully by telling the world about my mistake, it will prevent somebody from making the same one in their lifetime.

It is another reason that I really loved the time I got to spend at the Elephant Conservation Center. It wasn’t just about hanging out with the elephants and watching the staff help them become more self-sufficient. It wasn’t knowing that the elephants were well taken care and examined by a veterinarian in large stalls at regular intervals. It wasn’t knowing that this organization was helping to create a forest where man has come in and depleted it without really thinking about the larger consequences of what that could mean about future generations. It was the fact that this place took the time to educate the people who stayed here about what they could do to make sure they weren’t contributing to the problem by the decisions they made half a world away.

This is why travel is so important. If we never go out and take the risk to see what the rest of the world is like, we get set in the mind frame of the place we come from. We don’t see the larger picture. We don’t understand how the buying of palm oil helps to contribute to the depletion of the forest. We don’t understand how the buying of certain products gives money to the people who would continue to abuse animals for their own superstitions or their own wallets. We need to be aware that we live in a global society and each decision we make affects the lives of so many others.

So as the sun started to set on my second day at the Elephant Conservation Center, I was able to reflect on my life and my contribution to the problems of the world. I was able to see that I needed to be more conscious of my decisions as I continued down this road of life and make sure that I make the right ones.

If you would like to find out more information or contribute to the work happening at the Elephant Conservation Center, check out their website at http://www.elephantconservationcenter.com.

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Sayaboury, Laos – Day 3

My third day out in Laos was the one I was the most excited about. It was the day where I was going to leave Luang Prabang behind and take a two hour trip to the less populated part of the country in the provenance of Soyaboury.

The lifestyle in this part of the country was a little more simple. It wasn’t so much about tourist and café streets where I could sip a drink and watch the crowds mingle in a facsimile of a small town in France. Instead, the people found a way to live off of the land. Mainly this was done through fishing on the lake we ended up on, but there were also plantations around here and small towns to supply the people of this area what they needed to survive comfortably.

The houses weren’t as fancy either. I stayed in a cabin in the middle of the forest on the edge of the lake. There was some electricity to the place but that created only at night and with the use of a generator. And I was forced to get off the grid because there was no internet service or wifi available anywhere. It was great because I was able to return to the simplicity of the wilderness that I had not been able to experience for a long time, and I was reveling in the experience.

But all of these things were not the real reason that I went out to this remote place. It was to visit the Elephant Conservation Center and witness all of the amazing work they are doing with these elephants in this region of the world.

The name Laos use to translate into the land of a million elephants. Now, I am pretty sure that the population of these beasts was never that large in this area of the world, but the idea that elephants were all over the place probably was. These gentle beasts had been domesticated by the people of Laos over a thousand years ago and they were used to help with gathering the wood that people needed in order to build houses, and support themselves. For many centuries this structure maintained a strong economic structure allowing the country to continue peacefully in a symbiotic balance.

But then the logging industry came in and the tree population started to decline and more elephants were needed to help deplete the forest. The people who were trained to handle these creatures could not train enough people to train the animals in the proper way, and soon the animals were abused. Because of this many things happened. The forest grew small and wasn’t able to support the wild population of the elephants. The animals were forced to find food at people’s farms and were executed because of this. Many of the elephants were also sold for great profit to Chinese wealthy individuals who used many parts of the animals for old remedies that they believed still worked. The population of the animals fell in both the wild and domesticated populations leaving the country with an estimated 800 animals that are left today.

This is when the Laos government stepped in. They were trying to save what was left of the forest and what was left of the elephants. They banned the logging industry and the animals who were beasts of burden were forced to move to tourist supported camps. The abuse there got even worse. The mahouts, the trainers of elephants, would train them by using a large hook and tapping the animals in certain places to get them to do what they wanted them to do. Because of the untrained mahouts that were working these tourist camps, they did not know how to use their tools correctly, and would hit the animals way too hard. It would leave areas of scars on the animals similar to what can be seen on the head of the female elephant pictured above. Some of these abuses eventually led to death.

This is where the Elephant Conservation Center came into play. The people that run this center were not looking to use elephants for commercial reasons. They, instead, were trying to save elephants, and then train them to eventually return to the wild. They have also been working on a breeding program to help bring the population back up to where it once used to be. They have hired skilled mahouts to help in this process, and what started off with only three elephants seven years ago has grown into a population of thirty. They have saved a few elephants from the terrible fate of having to work the tourist camps that don’t treat the elephants kindly, and they have even recently been donated 13 elephants that were scheduled to move to a zoo in Dubai.

Their efforts are some truly amazing things to see, and I was glad to have been able to spend two days and three night learning about all of the great things that they were doing at this place. I will tell you more about what they have done in my next couple of posts, but in the meantime, if you would like to find out more or would like to help by contributing to this great organization, you can contact them at http://www.elephantconservationcenter.com.

 

Laung Prabang, Laos – Day 2

On the second day in Luang Prabang, I decided to get out of the city and explore the countryside a little bit, and one of the big attractions out there is the Kuang Si Waterfall. It is a series of waterfall over pristine lakes that brings in tons of tourists to enjoy its beauty and to cool off in the water of the pools. It is about a forty-five minute drive from Luang Prabang, but there are many ways to make it out there. My wife and I rented a van to drive us out there for about the cost of six U.S. dollars. It was totally worth it too, because we just got to relax in the car and enjoy the scenery instead of feeling the pressure of driving in a foreign country and not really being accustomed to the rules of the road that the locals follow. Even though we took the easy way, there were still a bunch of other tourists who rented bikes and made their own way out there, or found tuk tuk to take them.

Entry into the park costs 20,000 kip which is just over a couple of dollars, and it includes entry into the Tak Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center. There are many people who live in this region, mainly Chinese I am told, who believe that the bile from the sun bears has healing properties, so they will trap these bears, keep them in small cages, and extract their bile from them for their own use. It was nice to see that there was a group in Laos dedicated to protecting them, and they had created large environments for the bears to roam around so they no longer felt the pressure of having to live in the cage.

The same people did an amazing job of keeping the water of the waterfalls pristine. I couldn’t believe the frosty blue that shimmered in the pools collected by the water trickling down the hill. And even though there were some crowds in the place, I was still able to find a private spot where I could enjoy the water. It wasn’t as cold as I was expecting it to be either. It was quite comfortable and if the weather was warmer, I would have stayed in longer.

Other people there found place where they could jump into the water and enjoy the crowd a little bit more. It was the perfect place to find the amount of people you wanted to contend with, and when you found that level you were free to enjoy yourself.

Of course the hike up the waterfalls had the big payoff at the end. The huge waterfall cascaded down a series of rocks and there were many places you could go to click the perfect picture. Granted the crowds got a little bigger here than some of the other places on the hike, but it was still never so bad where I felt like I had to fight through the elbows in order to enjoy the serenity that the spot had to offer.

We were also more adventuresome than some of the other people there. There was a small path on the left of the waterfall that we took to reach the top of it. The path was kind of steep and there were a couple spots where it was really slippery because you needed to walk through the side of the waterfall itself, but we made it too the top. The pools were not as pretty up there, but the views of the countryside was worth the trek.

It wasn’t only about the waterfall either. There was some amazing trees out there and every once in a while we came across an explosion of flowers. It was during the dry season as well, so I couldn’t even begin to imagine what this place would look like if it got enough rain to really explode.

For the most part, the hike was really worth it. It was the perfect blend of nature and man made structures to support it but not take away from the natural charm of the area.

It is a must stop for anybody who finds themselves in Luang Prabang, and I am glad we made it out there. After a couple of hours enjoying the area we made it back to the parking lot where our driver was happy to take us back into town.

Luang Prabang, Laos – Day 1

Luang Prabang is a small town situated in the heart of Laos. It is an obvious tourist destination but it does not attract the younger crowds looking for a night of crazy partying mixed with days spent around the pool. Yes, you can still have a few drinks at night and then spend the day sitting around a pool, but that is not the real attraction of this place. Instead it is a blend of a couple of things that really come together in a surprising way that makes people wonder what part of the world they really in. Laos used to be under the control of the French and you can still see that influence out here around every corner. It sometimes makes me feel as if I am in some small European town, but then there is also the fact that it is in the middle of Asia, and the place also holds on to the charms of the long rich heritage that has been here a lot longer than a few invading European forces could crush with their imperialism.

I could see it when I looked at the lush landscapes around the place. It is situated between two rivers, the bigger Mekong river, and the smaller Nam Khan River. When I looked at the banks flowing down to the river, I saw the power of nature as it took over the land with its jungle landscape.

But then, walking through the town, there are many places where the foliage has obviously been landscaped to look pretty and perfect, making the simple alleyways in town tempting little places to explore. The nice thing is that they are fun to explore because the town is so small that I am never worried about losing my bearings and getting lost in a dangerous part of town. I don’t think there is a dangerous part of town.

Unless I count the foot bridge that takes people across the Nam Khan River. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. It looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, and would be ready to collapse at any moment. It just meant that this would have to be something I would have to cross some time while I am out here. I did not do it on my first day because it costs a dollar to get across and I wanted to explore the main part of the town first, but it is definitely on the list of things to do while I am out here.

Apparently the people of Luang Prabang rebuild it every year during the dry season. When the rains come, the river gets really high and takes out the bridge. This just gives me another reason that I have to cross it because it is there and this version of the bridge will only be there for a limited amount of time.

I guess the rest of the year when the bridge is not up, they use ferry boats to get across the river. It would be fun to take one of these as well, but not as much fun as that bridge has to be. But I do need to make my way to the other side of the river while I am out here because there is a whole different part of the town over there. This is probably where most of the people who work out here live, and they do need a way to get across.

It goes back to that mixture that I saw on my first day out here. There is a healthy amount of fishing that takes place on the river, and it is probably the main source of food for the people out here. The river looked huge in my mind when I watched fisherman throw out their nets, and I am sure that they could bring it a big haul everyday, and this was still the dry season. I could not imagine how crazy this river gets during the wet season. It has to be huge, but then again I come from Colorado where we think that the trickle we call the Platte River has earned the title of river. When I see the Mekong during its low period, I learn that Coloradoans need to rethink their position on rivers.

Beyond the river is the town itself with its many features. There is the old palace that used to house the king of Laos that you can tour around. It is absolutely beautiful inside and even though the presentation chambers are decadent, it is surprising to see the humble quarters where they lived. Granted the bed room is probably close to the size of my whole apartment back in Seoul, but it is its simple decoration and practical living styles that remind me that I am looking at the living space of an Asian king. There are also many Buddhist temples out here, and their intricate design and peaceful atmosphere make them a wonderful place to visit and tour.

But as soon as I leave the grounds of these tourist spots, I find myself back into the French influence of the country. There are numerous bars that spill out to the sidewalks at night and people sit in their chairs sipping on their cocktails as they watch the various people pass them by. They serve food that is a blend of Asian spices and French cuisine. It makes the choices of food amazing. Laotian food is very similar to Thai food with its spicy deliciousness, but I can still find a nice Western style meal if I want to. Eating will be one of the things I will enjoy a lot while I am out here, and it makes me excited for what other adventures await me on this trip.

It’s Now About the Destination

Yes, we have all heard it before, the comedian standing up on the stage complaining about how horrible airports are. We have even experienced the moment. There are mixed emotions that we go through every time we are forced to make our way to the airport. On one hand, we are going some place great to enjoy a wonderful vacation, but on the other hand, you have to deal with an airport and airplane travel.

Yes, these places are awful. You get packed into places with large groups of people so they can shuffle you off from one place to another. They just become nameless faces among thousands. You get to sit on hard seats. You get to have the seat in front of you lean back so they can crush your knees. You get to smell really bad airline food because there is no way that you would ever want to eat it. And you get stuck in terminals during layovers because if you leave, it would mean that you would have to stand in line all over again to back to the place you never wanted to be in the first place.

Even though the mere thought of it makes my back shrivel up in dread, it wasn’t until today that I really understood why I truly hate airplane travel. It is not all the uncomfortable positions I get placed in because if I am driving across America, I get those same pains from being stuck in a car all day. It isn’t from the bad food because if we are being honest, the fast food that you find off of any highway in America is just as bad. No, I think the real reason I hate it so bad is because it takes away from me one of my fundamental beliefs.

Life is not about the destination. It is the all about the journey. It is about the things that you get to experience along the way. Don’t get me wrong; the destination is awesome when you are going on vacation, but so is the journey. Some of my favorite stories come from traveling on a train, or hanging with my new friends on a bus, or some of the crazy things I have seen from being on the road. But traveling by plane is all about how fast you can get from one place to another. There is a little hole you feel within your existence because you no longer get to talk about the stories that you would have collected along the way.

Now, a lot of airports will have great pieces of artwork up that reflects the nature of the little corner of the world where they find themselves in, but most of the time they are remakes of some original that could only be found outside of the airport. They are still neat to look at, but you still didn’t have to make the trek to go and see it. Instead it is right there off of the airplane for you to admire.

Most airports try to fill in the void that you experience from not having the journey with shopping. It is crazy the kinds of things you can find for sale at airports too. Incheon International Airport is probably one of the worst. They expect you to spend your money on Tiffany’s jewelry, or Gucci bags. They do not even have a place where you can pick up a small snack to enjoy on the plane, or a book or magazine to read to make the flight go by quicker. And even worse, they have Duty Free shops to fill in that void even more. If buying expensive things doesn’t make you feel better, than get yourself some cheap booze and cigarettes to pass away the time. The sad thing is you will only wake up from that with a bigger void you wish to fill.

In fact the only time you feel like you have completed anything that feels like a journey is when you first arrive at the place where you will stay. This is the first time that what you will see that looks like it has the adventure that we crave as human beings. The only problem is that it is found at the destination, the place that was meant to be our reward for going through the adventures in the first place. Think about every great epic story that you know. It is not about them being at the place, but instead it is about the adventure they have to get there. And I long for the same thing in my life.

The only problem is that after all the exhaustion that is experienced on the voyage to get to your destination, the only thing you look forward to is the bed so you can rest up to take on the next day. Yes, the next day will be filled with adventure, and it will be worth the long travel to get there, but you are still missing out on something because of the airplane travel. Now don’t get me wrong. In this busy world that we live in, I will still take that flight so I can enjoy places like Laos on the spur of the moment, but there is still a part of me that wishes that I could experience it the old way where I would take the long, slow route, so I have something to talk about when I get there.

This way the drink and company I share when I arrive will even be more enjoyable.

Accountability – Part 3 – Chapter 6

The final is almost here. Unfortunately you will have to wait a couple of weeks before I am able to post it. In the meantime, I will be sharing my experiences in Laos, so enjoy that while waiting for the final chapter.

6

I walked down the hallway of the office building to the glass door. Before going outside, I looked out to see how much of the circus had been set up. A podium had been set up in the middle of the parking lot. Each television station had strategically placed their cameras around the podium so they could obtain the best view of the proceedings. They were all present: NBC, ABC, FOX, CBS, CNN and the People’s Network. A few newspaper reporters had gathered in the back of the throng still able to hear well enough to take notes down on their tiny pads. Other reporters had wandered over to the mothers from my neighborhood to ask them questions and get their perspective on the matter. Officer Provata was standing at the podium and answering questions from the press. It was obvious this wasn’t the main event but the press continued to ask questions because they needed something before the real action got started. It helped build up the anticipation for the viewers, and I could envision all of those viewers at their homes keeping one eye on the television while keeping the other one on their regular routine.

I looked back down the hallway to the closed door of Dr. Nancy Ann Blur. I wondered why she hadn’t come out and tried to stop me. It also made me wonder what was actually going on in her office. To this day I try to imagine what was going through her mind on that fateful day as she sat alone at her desk. Did she regret the decisions she had made in life? Did she realize her greed would get her nowhere in life? Or was she only worried about her mistakes now because she had finally been caught in the act? It is always intriguing to speculate on these moments in life but we will never truly understand the thought processes of others. In the case of Dr. Nancy Ann Blur, I will never be able to be sure, but I do believe her thought process went something like this:
“What will be my legacy in this world? It doesn’t matter how much good you do or how much you try to change the world for the better when you face a scandal in your lifetime. The scandal will always be your legacy. Do the American people see Nixon as a man who fought for the rights of the handicapped? No, they only see Watergate. Do they remember how Clinton balanced the budget? No, they only see Monica Lewinsky. Will I be known as the champion of children and turning the job of motherhood into a respectable occupation? Or will they only remember me as a woman who sold out the future of America in order to make a quick million dollars? What will my legacy be? Champion? Innovator? Hypocrite? Why am I the one who has to be held accountable?”

It was these thoughts that probably made her do what she did that day, but at that moment, I could care less what she was really thinking. I was just happy I had finally crushed the woman who had tortured me the last year and it was my time, my final coup de gras. I mumbled under my breath, “Good riddance,” before I opened the door and walked outside.

As I walked across the parking lot toward the podium I could hear Officer Provata explain once again why he was unable to arrest me yet and how I was still entitled to due process even though I was an American. The rest of the reporters had not noticed my presence yet, so for one bizarre moment I was able to enjoy the circus before I was to become one of its central figures.

Officer Provata continued on trying to entertain the crowd, “We were not able to arrest Mrs. Britva at her house due to one of the clauses of the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act. In that provision, it clearly states that every mother is entitled to an assessment meeting with their assessor before it is decided if re-education is needed. During the meeting, the assessor needs to explain what charges are being brought up and outline every instance where the mother went astray during her assessment. Of course, this provision has never come to light before this moment because it is the duty to the mother in question to request this meeting to take place, and if they do not it is automatically assumed the individual wants to give up this right. This is the first case where the mother has requested this meeting to have all of this laid out before her.”

I stood at the edge of the crowd to watch a little more of the press conference. I was amazed that nobody had noticed me yet. One of the reporters closer to the front raised her hand with a question and Officer Provata called on her. “Why would they add this provision to the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act? Who would do such a thing?”

Officer Provata replied, “Obviously, I don’t have that information in front of me, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would say this part of the act was introduced as an amendment by one of our more liberal senators or congressmen. I’m sure they talked on and on about how every person in this nation is entitled to due process under the Constitution of the United States and if we didn’t allow this to happen then the law would eventually be ruled unconstitutional. There is probably some truth to it, but when all is said and done, it is a part of the law, and it is not my job to interpret the law, just enforce it. This is the reason we’re waiting for word on what steps to take next.”

The press all seemed to nod in agreement, and started mumbling to themselves. Officer Provata tried to keep the focus of the press conference by asking the reporters if there were any more questions, but the press seemed bored with him and were more interested in the main event. They started to question why it hadn’t started yet. Reporters started asking other reporters what they were going to do after work, and how each others’ family members were doing. It was obvious this portion of the press conference was over. I thought this would be the perfect time to take center stage and give all of the reporters the scoop they were anticipating. I raised my hand to get Officer Provata’s attention, but he looked over my head at something going on behind me.

Officer Provata pointed towards the front door to the office building and said, “Oh, there she comes right now.”

The press turned to see who it was he was talking about. I saw Dr. Nancy Ann Blur exiting the door and walking over to the podium. The press rushed over to her. I was lost in the shuffle and nobody seemed to notice that the person whom this press conference was really about was amongst their midst. They instead were more interested in the woman whom they had raised up to the class of goddess and they bombarded her with so many questions there was no way she would be able to distinguish one from another.

She had definitely collected herself since last I had seen her. She was no longer the broken soul who I had left in the room back in the office building. Her swagger and confidence had returned as she strode over to the podium. Her business suit was presentable as if she had just ironed it. Her hair was once again perfectly tucked and arranged in its usual bun in order to give the appearance of a woman on a mission. Even through the clatter of the press, I could hear her high heels clack against the blacktop.

It was like watching a group of six year olds play soccer as she made her way to the podium. I was the only one on the sideline staring at the spectacle. She was like the soccer ball and the reporters were like the six year-olds huddled around the ball trying to get their kick. The ball continued on its path and the huddled mass of humanity followed it.

Dr. Blur did turn her head to look at me as she made her way to the podium. We held eye contact for a few moments. No words were exchanged between us but the look said enough. It was as though she was saying, you have forced me to play my hand, and this is the only thing left for me to do. I remember wondering at the time what that final play would be, and with all of the thoughts running through my mind, the final card she played was as much a surprise for me as it was for the rest of the people fortunate enough to have witnessed the event.
Just as fast as Dr. Blur and I were able to connect from across the crowd, the spell was broken and once again she was focused on the podium. She quickened her pace and the press let her take her place at the microphone. The reporters ran back to their places in front of the podium to make sure they had a wonderful seat for the show. One of the members of the press bumped into me as he made his way to his spot. He looked down at me in disgust and said, “Watch where you’re going,” and then moved on to his spot.

I was dumbfounded by this response by the press. I thought I was supposed to be the main attraction during this press conference and they banged into me without even recognizing me. How in the world did that happen? Was this really about me, or was I duped into believing what I was doing was greater than it actually was? Since when had I become yesterday’s news?

Dr. Blur stood up at the podium and looked over the crowd to make sure everybody had taken their spots. People jostled for position and she patiently waited for them to get where they needed to be. My heart started to thump a little quicker because I didn’t know what she was going to do and whether it would involve me in a disparaging way. Would she try to take me down before I was able to take her down? Would she ignore me and go after Sam Hogston instead? Would she expose herself before I was able to do it? The last one bothered me the most. Looking back, it wasn’t really important if I was the one who exposed her or if somebody else did. The important thing was the whole truth of the National Loving and Caring Behavior Act was brought to light and no mother ever again would be held accountable for its ridiculous precepts. But there was a part of me that wanted the credit and recognition for being the one who had brought the law down. After all the trials and tribulations I had been through, after all the compromises I made for everything I believed in, after the loved ones’ lives I destroyed to reach the goal of taking down the one evil I knew I couldn’t believe in, I wanted the feeling I would obtain from bringing all of this to light. If I was the person, I would be a hero to millions and my story would be told time and time again as inspiration to others. But now all I could do was stand on the sidelines and watch as Dr. Nancy Ann Blur once again took the spotlight.
What she did though was not at all what I expected. She stood at the podium and waited until there was complete silence from the crowd. They eventually gave it to her because of the respect they still held for her. She coughed into the microphone once and I could remember how eerily quiet it was that fateful day. You couldn’t hear a breath from another person. Even nature seemed to stand on edge to see what she was going to do next. The birds quit chirping in their trees and watched with interest. The bugs landed on places where they would not be a distraction. Even the gentle breeze stopped so it wouldn’t disturb the trees with the rustling of its blooming leaves.

Looking back, it was probably the same in all the households and businesses across America. People stopped what they were doing and moved closer to their televisions. Kids stopped playing with their toys to pay attention to this historic moment. Babies even quit crying long enough to focus their eyes for the first time on their televisions.

With all of America paying attention, Dr. Nancy Ann Blur coughed again. Slight feedback echoed through the speakers.

She began speaking, “I want to thank you all for coming here today and listening to what I have to say. The few words I have to say should answer all of your questions.”

She coughed again.

America leaned even closer.

She reached behind to the small of her back. She seemed to grope for something that was there. She brought it out for everybody to see. It was a small revolver.

She brought the barrel up to her chin as if it was the microphone.

“I just tried to make the world a better place, the best way I knew how.”

Those were her last words. She stuck the barrel into her mouth. Tears rolled past her eyeglasses onto her chubby cheeks. I always like to think her eyes made one last direct connection with mine before she pulled the trigger. An explosion of hair, bone, and brains burst from the top of her head. She closed her eyes and slumped to the ground.

A reporter in the front row turned to his cameraman and said, “Tell me you got that.”

Accountability – Part 3 – Chapter 5

5

Of course, the police were at my house a couple of hours later. I was expecting them. I wasn’t expecting the multitude of reporters that accompanied them. A large circus-like caravan arrived at my house. The flashing lights of the police cars led them to my front door. News vans and police cars alike tried to find parking spaces on the narrow street where I lived. The police pretended to create some order by putting up the yellow police line tape and using a couple of the new hires to make sure everybody kept their distance so the detectives could do their job properly. It didn’t really stop anything; it just gave the media the best angle possible to record my arrest. It also allowed the mothers of the neighborhood to gather on the driveway of the house across the street and whisper about how they knew they were right about me. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but their furtive glances, and pointing fingers told it all. I knew I was going to be the subject of many conversations over the next couple of weeks in this neighborhood and many like it across America.

I spent that hour preparing for the finest moment in my life. I took off that hideous dress and threw it in the fire with Mr. Clicky-Pen and Dr. Blur’s clipboard. I wiped off all of the make-up to feel more human before I took center stage. I let my hair down to show the world I wouldn’t need to be blonde in order to be respected by people in this world. I put on a business suit I had sewn during my free time as I waited for this day to come. I told Brandon and the kids not to worry about me because there was nothing to worry about. I took my file and placed it in front of me on the kitchen table. I was ready for this.

All of the time I was preparing, police were setting up their three rings believing that they would be the ringmaster, but they didn’t know this role still had not been assigned. I knew the show had started when there was a knock on the door and a rough man’s voice said from the other side, “Open up, Police!”

Brandon had dressed in the meantime and was working off his hangover with a cup of coffee when this call came. He looked over at me with a worried expression on his face. I could just imagine what was going through his mind. He was probably worried he would lose another wife and mother to his children. He was probably thinking the children would have a difficult time recovering once again from this loss. He was also probably wondering if he would be able to find another woman to take the place of Abby and me. It hurt me a little to recognize these thoughts in him, but I knew what I was doing was the right thing, and he, Ben, Katie, and many other families like them would be better off for my actions.

I looked up at him. “Do you have that file I told you to keep?”

He nodded his head trying to hold back the tears about to come. I didn’t know how much I had become a part of his life until that moment. Even though I had been following my own interpretation of the standards laid out in the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act, I must have still been making an impact. It made me think about the damage I might be doing to this family again. Was I really helping them by taking down this absurd law or was I just another person playing the system for the benefit of my own agenda, not caring about who I stepped on through the process? It was too late to worry about that anymore because certain cards had already been laid on the table and there was no taking them back. I had to continue down this path and hope Brandon, Ben, and Katie wouldn’t think of me as just another individual who had let them down. I hoped maybe after the battle had been waged and all of the dust had settled they would see my actions for what I believed they really were.

I had a path to go down and now was not the time to second guess my actions. I continued along the path by ignoring the tears in Brandon’s eyes and saying, “Remember, I am the only one who can tell you when to bring that file out. It is very important you keep it safe until then. You will have to trust me. Also keep your head up because it is your courage that gives me mine.” I got up from the table and gave him a kiss. It might have been one of the most honest kisses I ever gave because at that moment I truly felt a love in my heart for Brandon. In fact, it might have been the most honest kiss I have ever given.

Another knock on the door came. “This is your final warning. Open this door now or we will break it down.” I couldn’t believe how much weight they put on my arrest. I was just a mother, not some criminal out to destroy the moral fabric of this country. Even though motherhood was still the buzzword of this time, I can’t still understand why they made such a big deal about this arrest.

I picked up the file from the kitchen table and walked to the front door. Before I walked outside, I looked back at Brandon. The kids had huddled around him, and I gave him a smile to bring him and the children courage in the dark days ahead. Then I shouted out the door, “I’m coming out. I have no weapons in my hands expect for my file. I’m coming out peacefully and am willing to work with the police in this matter, but I want you do the same.”

A voice came from the other side of the door. “We cannot guarantee that Mrs. Britva.”

“Keep in mind there is an army of reporters parked on my front lawn recording every move you and I make.”

The voice from the other side of the door returned. “We can guarantee a peaceful arrest, Mrs. Britva.”

“Good.” I opened the door and walked out onto the porch. There were six police officers dressed in riot gear standing on my front porch. The one in the lead held a pair of handcuffs in his gloved hand, and motioned he was going to have to put them on me.

He looked at me said, “Mrs. Britva, you are under arrest for violation of the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act.” He grabbed my hand and was bringing down the handcuff to place it on my wrist.

He stopped when I said, “Officer, you can’t arrest me yet.”

“Why can’t I arrest you yet?”

I had done a little homework before this day came, and I knew the arrest was inevitable; at the same time, I needed it to happen in the right place, at the right time and this wasn’t it. I had another card in my hand I needed to show before all of this played out. “Officer, what is your name?”

“Provata.”

“Officer Provata, have you read the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act?”

“Well, yea…umm…well…no, I haven’t.”

“Well, if you had read it, you would know there is a provision saying arrests of non-proficient mothers can only be made after the reasons for non-proficiency have been discussed in a private conference with the assessor making the claim of non-proficiency.”

Officer Provata stood there with his mouth open, the handcuffs in one hand and my wrist in the other. “Huh?”

“In order to formally charge me with being in violation of the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act, my assessor needs to explain to me in a private meeting the reasons why she thinks I have broken these rules.”

“Huh?”

I couldn’t believe this was the type of person in charge of enforcing the laws of our land. “Legally, I need to have a private meeting with Dr. Blur before you can arrest me.”

Something clicked within the deep recesses of this man’s mind. “Ohhh, Can you hold on for a second?”

He let go of my wrist and put the handcuffs back in his back pocket. I smiled at him to reassure him I understood what was happening. “Of course, Officer Provata.”

He turned around from me and started talking in a mumbled voice into his walkie talkie. Another voice, clearly female, returned from the other end, “What?”

Officer Provata once again mumbled something incoherent into his communication device and was rewarded with static. He waited patiently and turned to me to give me a smile. He tapped his feet as the rest of the officers looked around aimlessly. One of them waved to the reporters on my front lawn. Officer Provata grabbed the other officer’s hand and pulled it down to his side. He turned back to me and smiled again. The walkie talkie beeped and Officer Provata answered it, “Yes?”

“Bring her to me,” came the voice from the other end of the walkie talkie.

“Okay,” Officer Provata replied. He then turned to face the reporters who had assembled on my front lawn. The mothers who were waiting to see me dragged away from their neighborhood also leaned in to hear what he was going to say.

“Ladies and members of the press,” Officer Provata started, “it has come to my attention that Mrs. Britva is entitled to an assessment review to be delivered by her assessor. Because of this, we are unable to arrest her at this time.”

There were groans emanating from the crowd. One of the mothers stomped her foot in frustration and one of the reporters holding a microphone tossed it on the ground. Cameras were turned off and people started to shuffle away from the scene. I could even hear a producer from one of the production vans saying, “Great, I guess we’re going to have to go with that panda video on YouTube as our opening story.”

Officer Provata brought them all back before they left the scene for good, “Ladies and members of the press!” They all turned back around to hear what he had to say. “Just because we can’t arrest her now doesn’t mean we can’t arrest her after the assessment meeting.”

One of the reporters looked up and said, “You mean we might still be able to get footage of an arrest today?”

One of the mothers in the neighborhood said, “You mean we might still be able to get rid of the white trash living in that house?”

Officer Provata raised his hands to quickly pacify the crowd, “Yes, ladies and members of the press, your wildest dreams may still be granted today. You just need to follow me to the next stop.”

A loud cheer went up from the crowd and they all rushed to their cars. Officer Provata looked back at me, “Well, Mrs. Britva, are you ready to go to your assessment review?”

I looked down at the file folder in my hand and then up at the policeman, “Yes, Officer Provata, I am.”

He motioned towards his car sitting in my driveway, “Then Mrs. Britva if you would be so kind as to accompany me, I’ll drive you down to your meeting.”

I walked down to the passenger side of the car. Officer Provata followed closely behind me and opened the door for me. I entered the seat and got myself cozy for the voyage ahead. He quickly ran around to the other side. He entered, started the car and backed out of the driveway. He slowly drove out of the neighborhood. I turned around in my seat to see the caravan following closely behind. There was a group of television vans following behind and numerous mini-vans and SUVs behind them. It was a bizarre procession traveling down the usually sleepy streets of my neighborhood. It was like watching a group heading towards a cemetery to bury a loved one. There was a police car in the front leading all of the mourners through the streets of town allowing them the right of way. The only difference was the way most of the people in the cars felt. The only ones who were grieving about this parade were back at my home, wondering why they took another mother away from them. The rest of the group was happy at the eminent demise of the person leading the motorcade.

I turned around to enjoy the free ride I was getting.

Officer Provata broke the silence in the car. “Mrs. Britva, I know it’s my job to bring you in, but I have to say I admire you for whatever it is you did today.”

I looked over at him, “Excuse me?”

“I mean I have been arresting mothers for the past six years for Nancy, and I have never seen her this mad before. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen her get mad. She is just one cool customer. I’ve never seen her get upset about anything, but you did something today that just sent her over the edge. What exactly did you do?”

I chuckled a little at this. “I’d love to tell you, Officer Provata, but I don’t think it is wise of me to disclose that information to anyone at this time.”

“Oh yeah, because of the Miranda Rights and all that kind of stuff. You’re probably right. But hey, you can tell me. I promise I won’t use what you say against you.” He looked over at me to see if I would tell him.

I just shook my head.

“Oh well, it was worth it anyway. The other guys at the precinct have been wondering if she would ever crack. We were talking about how she was like a bottle of soda that would eventually explode all over the place. There is no way anyone could ever hold that much in and not find some way to release it all. I’m glad to see somebody was able to break through her veneer.”

I gave the police officer my most endearing smile. “I’m glad I was able to give somebody some pleasure out of this experience today.”

Officer Provata let out a belly laugh as he pulled into one of the busier streets of the city. “Oh I’m going to laugh about this for years to come. She comes running into the police station with her hair sticking out all over the place, mumbling something about the death of a Mr. Penn. Anyway, it set the whole police staff on edge the moment she showed up. We didn’t recognize her at first because her hair was all a mess, her clothes were ripped and stained and she wasn’t even wearing any shoes. In fact, she had a potted plant on one of her feet.”

“That would be one of my ferns.”

“I’d love to hear how that got on her foot.” He looked over at me as if I would tell him, but I sat in silence and stared out the front window, “Anyway, my first initial reaction was that this woman was one of the homeless, crazy women wandering the streets of Denver. Granted, she might’ve witnessed something truly horrendous like a murder, but we would have to calm her down in order to get any good information out of her.

“I went over to calm her down. We kept on asking her who this Mr. Penn was, where his body was, and if she knew who had committed the act. We couldn’t get anything coherent out of her and she continued to wave around this package of ink cartridges as if that explained everything. That’s when I recognized her. When she heard me say her name, she ran over to the corner of the room and started shaking while huddling down; her arms wrapped around her knees.

“We left her in the room while we talked about what we were going to do with her. We obviously couldn’t report this to the press because it could possibly destroy the integrity of the Department of Motherhood. We couldn’t really go out and arrest anybody because nobody had heard about this Mr. Penn she was babbling on about and our databases only showed one person living anywhere in the state with that name. We called the individual and when he told us he was alive and well, we couldn’t quite figure out what to do about the situation. We needed her to collect herself so she could tell us exactly what was wrong. Until then we wouldn’t be able to do anything.

“I let her have my office so she could collect herself. I had another officer give her some coffee and talk her down from her hysteria. When she had calmed down enough, I was able to get one name out of her and how we needed to arrest that one person. That person was you, Mrs. Britva. I asked her what I was to charge you with because murder was definitely not anything I could connect to you. She told me I could arrest you for being an improper mother and that is what brought me to your door this afternoon.

“I still really want to know what you did to make her go crazy. I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me.”

I smiled at Officer Provata, “I think that is between Dr. Blur and me, but if it ever comes out in the press, I’ll make sure you are one of the first to know.”

He conceded my point by saying, “You’re probably right, but I have never met a person I’d like more to get what’s coming to her than Dr. Nancy Ann Blur. She has been a pain in the ass for the police department ever since that stupid act became a law. We’ve had to make more arrests than I know what to do with. Most of these arrests are not even worth it. I’ve been arresting mothers for the stupidest reasons while gangbangers, drug dealers, pimps, and corrupt corporate officers wander around free. One of my officers even had to go and arrest his own wife because she wasn’t able to pass her stupid assessment. I wish we could just get back to doing the job we were hired to do and quit worrying about all of this bureaucratic bullshit. Come on, most of these mothers are just trying to be the best mother they can possibly be. It’s not an easy job. I see my wife struggle with my five children every day. Her heart is in the right place. I don’t really see what all of these standards have to do with being a good mother or not.”

Officer Provata pulled into the parking lot of a large office building. The caravan following us pulled in and quickly took up the remaining parking spots. The circus had only been delayed for a little bit, but they were getting it ready again.

I patted Officer Provata on the knee. “You have a right to be worried about your wife and the standards they are trying to make her follow. They really have nothing to do with her being a good mother. Nobody can really see it. There is more to this than just the raising of our youth. As long as you, your wife, and everybody else who sees this injustice keeps fighting for the youth of America, we’ll fix this system that has been set up against us.”

“I hope you are right,” he said as he turned off the ignition of his car. “Are you ready to have your assessment meeting?”

“More than you really know.”

“Well then, let’s go.”

He opened the car door. I came out of the passenger side and followed him as he led me to my meeting with my nemesis. The golden clad mothers from my neighborhood had already created their gossiping circle on the corner of the parking lot. Many of the television stations were setting up their cameras. A couple of the more ambitious reporters had a cameraman follow them. These reporters had microphones in their hands and made their way to the building entrance in which Officer Provata and I were headed. They shoved their microphones into Officer Provata’s face and started asking him questions.

“What is Mrs. Britva being charged with?”

“How poorly did she score on her assessment to have this immediate reaction?”

“Will they yank away her privileges as mother to ensure she never corrupts the minds of our youth again?”

Many more questions were thrown in the officer’s direction but he continued to ignore them as he made his way to the entrance of the building. Before he entered, he turned and faced the throng of reporters. “Mrs. Rachael Britva is not being charged with anything formally at this time and will not be until she has had her assessment meeting with Dr. Nancy Ann Blur. At that time, there will be more information available, but until then you are just going to have to wait until she has been given due process as guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Thank you.”

He opened the door for me and ushered me inside. I could hear another collective groan from outside as the reporters were made to wait to see if they really had anything to report or not. I knew from experience, though, they would continue to postulate on the proceedings of the afternoon in order to keep their viewers interested.

Officer Provata led me down the hallway to a door that only had a brass nameplate on it. It read, “Secretary of Motherhood, Dr. N. A. Blur.” He knocked on the door, and was rewarded with a “Yes?” from the other side.

Officer Provata said in a loud but controlled voice, “Dr. Blur, I have Mrs. Britva here for her assessment meeting.”

“Send her in,” came from the other side.

Officer Provata took hold of the door knob and looked back at me standing in the hallway with my hands clutched around the file I brought with me. He smiled before opening the door and said, “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” I said and took a huge breath before continuing. Officer Provata opened the door for me and stood on the side to allow me to enter.

I walked into the room. She sat behind her desk. I was clocking her eyes like she was clocking mine. She was sitting there wondering, what is it this girl thinks she is doing; doesn’t she know who is in control.

Yes, I knew who was in control.

I was in control.

But it was time to let her know who was in control.

Before she could speak, before she could say a word, before she could bring my actions down as something absurd, I laid the file on the table, just for her to see what was really happening and the way it was going to be. A picture of her and Sam Hogston in the throes of passionate sex slid out and presented itself to her on the edge of her desk.

She let the picture lay there on the table.

By acknowledging its presence, she knew it was her turn to be the loser.
She opened her mouth. She started to speak, but I stopped her quickly before an utterance could be made.

“I think you know what that is.”

I didn’t look at the picture when I said it. I didn’t let her forget that it was there. I stared her down until she turned to look at what I was talking about.

She looked up from the picture and said, “So, it is a picture of two consenting adults making love. What’s the big deal about that?”

I walked over to the blinds behind her desk and pulled them open. The window behind the blinds was tinted so nobody would be able to see inside, but I was able to see the circus as it continued to set up.

“It is an interesting picture is all. I was wondering how the press outside would react to such a picture.”

I could hear her take in a quick breath as what I was saying started to sink in.

“I know it is no big deal, and it would probably blow over in a month or so because you and he are both not married, but that is not the real shocker; is it?” I looked away from the window to see what her reaction was. Dr. Blur gripped the picture in her hand and stared down at it. I could see her contemplate what this meant for her as a politician.

“The real shocker is who he is. I mean here is a man who is one of the leading figures in a different political party than you, and the two of you are in bed together. That’s quite a shocker. The press would have a lot of fun with that and what would the leading powers of your party think of you having sex with Sam Hogston?”

She looked up from the paper. “It’s nothing new. Do you think I’m the first person to be caught in bed with a member of the other party? It happens all of the time. Yes, we have our ideological wars taking place on the front pages of the newspapers and the headlines on the ten o’clock news, but if you really look at what the political parties do, there isn’t much difference between the two of them. Some people would even go so far as to say we are just two different arms of the same beast.”

I didn’t know if what she was telling me was a bluff or if she really believed all of the things she had just said. It didn’t really matter anyway. The picture was just the first layer of the corruption cake I was laying on her desk. It was the other layers that mattered. “It would still be a shocker to have that picture plastered all over the news. After what you just explained to me, it also just makes the rest of the package even juicier. The news will just use that picture while they explain all of the other stuff tucked away in that file.”

She reached over to the middle of the desk and grabbed the file. She opened it up and looked at the first page.

The heading on the paper caught her eye. It made her realize this visit was official. There would be no turning back from what was being learned today, and the reality was her world was quickly changing. She no longer had control of the situation and she suddenly realized who had all of the control, me.

She flipped through the file to the second piece of paper. Contempt painted itself across her face. Her hands betrayed that contempt. They showed the fear growing in her heart. Ever so slightly, ever so quietly, they began to shake.
She read on.

I read her eyes.

They let me know about the fear growing inside of her.

She tried to hide it with a practiced cold stare. She looked up from the file and icicles darted from her eyes. Her icy stare attempted to freeze my smug expression. But nothing could freeze the warmth of joy created in my heart. My smile melted those icicles. My eyes melted her eyes. My confidence melted her confidence.

I knew this was true.

She tried to pretend this wasn’t the case.

“What do you want me to do with this?”

She knew what I wanted her to do with it.

“Look at it.”

She put it on the desk.

“Understand it.”

She flipped it over.

“Don’t forget it.”

She took some files from one part of her desk and placed them on top of it in the middle of her desk.

“Because no matter how much you don’t want to face it, it is a part of who you are. You can’t deny it. You can’t bury it. And no matter how much you don’t want it to exist, it does, and it always will. I’m here today to make sure you’ll never be able to ignore it.”

I walked over to her side of the desk and sat on the edge right in front of her. I picked up the file and started to flip through it. “You see these papers tell a lot about what is going on in the Department of Motherhood. Not just why it was formed, but exactly what its mission is. You see the Department of Motherhood was designed to capitalize on one of the last refuges of human existence not able to be exploited by the corporations of this country. There was so much money to be made from the parents of this world and it wasn’t fair these fat bigwigs weren’t able to collect all of that money just going to waste. They wanted –no, let me rephrase that- they needed to corner this market, but there was no way the American people would ever accept this as a legitimate business. It needed a piece of legislation to make it legitimate, and that is where the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act, the Department of Motherhood, and the Secretary of Motherhood came into being. But you know all of this already, don’t you?”
She sat in her chair and scowled up at me.

I showed her the first page, and pointed to the bottom of the page. “You were there during its conception. At least that’s what this signature says. This whole idea was cooked up in the little town of Jeffery City, Wyoming when some young, up-and-coming politician took on the corrupt corporations taking over the land. It was the perfect story to tell because here was this opportunity for this young and innocent girl to look like the hero in the eyes of the nation and to start to champion this idea so it would be accepted by all. Were you that innocent figure who this nation just yearned for, that innocent figure they wanted to lead them in to a bold and bright destination?”

Dr. Blur continued to scowl in my direction. I thought she might try to bite off the finger I waved in her direction. But I wasn’t ready to stop.

“The government was only half of your devious plan. The other half involved a person to create a corporation willing to take on the burden of training these mothers who had gone astray. Who would be that person able to reintroduce these women to a society so desperately needing these mothers in order to make the world work right again? The answer was in the other half of that two fisted monster you mentioned earlier. Sam Hogston was no longer going to be the mayor of that little town made famous as soon as all of this came to light. Nobody knew what happened to the man after he lost the election. Well, these papers right here showed he started a limited partnership corporation called Capital Limited with another entrepreneurial individual.”

She actually took her stare away from me at that moment. This was more fun than I thought it would be.

“But that’s not the end of the story, is it?” I got up from the desk and walked over to her seat. “No, because, in order to make sure the Capital Limited Corporation made the money it was entitled to, they first needed to raise some capital. I wonder how they went about raising that capital. Do you know, or should I check the file again?”

I could hear her teeth grind as she tried to control her anger.

“It seems there was a small rodeo ground built in the town of Jeffery City, Wyoming. Now why does that name ring a bell? Oh, isn’t that where you’re from? Weren’t you the mayor of that town? I seem to recall that you were. In fact, I think it was part of the deal you helped orchestrate that made sure this complex was created. I do remember there being some kind of controversy about the cost of the complex, something about the cost being a little higher than what it should have been. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was about, but what I can put my finger on was who the contractor was who built this stadium. What was the name of that corporation again?”

She turned in her chair to face me with the scowl still on her face.

I walked around to the other side of the desk, “Now I remember the name of that company, Capital Limited Corporation. And who is the head of that company?”
Through gritted teeth, she said, “Sam Hogston.”

I looked down at the file with a mock look of consternation plastered upon my face. I pointed at the file and said, “That’s the crazy thing about this piece of paper I’m looking at. You see when the corporation was created it was a limited partnership corporation. That means there were at least two people who headed the company. Who was that other person who headed up this corporation, Dr. Blur?”

She leaned across the desk. She rested her elbows on the table. She rested her chin on her folded hands.

“What do you want from me?”

I closed the file. I smiled. I looked down my victim and laughed. “I want your demise, Nancy. I want your utter destruction. I want the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act to be destroyed once and for all so mothers can go back to doing the one thing they are not allowed to do under this absurd law, to be caring and loving mothers. The best part is I have the papers right here to do just that, and I have a captive audience out there waiting to hear what I have to say. But most of all I was waiting for this moment, the moment I can watch you wallow in your own pain and agony, the moment I can watch your spirit destroyed in the same manner you destroyed so many innocent women because you cared more about your pocketbook than the thing you actually claimed to care about. Thank you, Nancy, for giving me this opportunity. I am truly treasuring it.”

With that I turned around and walked out the door.