Jorge Corral, born in Los Angeles, attended Loyola University for both his undergraduate and law degrees. He is an attorney in private practice in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Corral attended the MFA International Program in Creative Writing at UNLV until his son, Gabriel el huracan, was born. He is currently working on a novel about the zapatistas, the 2001 Zapatour, Cuba, and jumping the Tijuana border. Corral participated in the 2001 Zapatour, and provides translation for escuelasparachiapas.org – and of himself, he says: “Soy adherente a la Sexta.” Corral can be reached at email@example.com.
Below is an excerpt from his novel-in-progress, Zapata Vive, Dude!
CHAPTER SIX: LA REALIDAD
Martin Saucedo was an instructor in English for a zapatista school in La Realidad, Chiapas. Between classes, he slept on a hammock among ceiba trees. High above on a wet branch, a toucan polished its beak. Ripe mangos lay at his feet and a river murmured nearby. Five Tojolabal women passed him in silence. They balanced baskets on their heads and followed the river downstream. A young girl holding a bar of soap to her nose sauntered behind.
Trees leaked drops from yesterday's rain. The toucan flapped noisely and rustled moist leaves. Raindrops fell on Martin. Mayan students entered the schoolhouse for afternoon classes and made loud bird whistles at the familiar sight of the Mexican from Vegas asleep, floating among ceiba trees. He jumped to his feet at the sound of bird-children.
The rebel zone occupied the southeast corner of Chiapas, bordering Guatemala. Life in the zapatista municipalities was, at times, as Mayan gods might have intended -- autonomous rule and armed insurgents hiding in the mist of the Lacandon jungle.
"Mayan girls don't dig dreads, dude. You fucked up," said Martin, teasing Boz, the newest instructor.
"Boz, this morning you wake with beautiful golden curls and now look at you," Toru tagged in.
"All week you give me shit about the curls, from the moment I walked in here." Boz lifted his clean baby dreadlocks in the air and shouted, "I used green rubberbands to go with my eyes."
The trio of volunteer instructors were cleaning the stables under the heaviest cloud in the sky. They'd been advised that a zapatista captain would be arriving that day to evaluate instructors for a special assignment. Martin had the only true shovel; wide and flat, perfect for shoveling horse shit. Boz handled a rake and Toru was useless with an old hoe. The mud complicated the removal of manure and the rain brought out the essence of the horse urine.
"Boz, chicks don't dig that shit, man," said Toru, pleased with his wiseguy impersonation.
Boz, leaning on the rake, could not be persuaded. He chewed gum, twisted his braids, and asked questions. "Have you ever been married, Martin?"
"Engaged, I was engaged to a girl in Zinacantan. Lupita."
"Lupita," repeated Boz, gentle with the enunciation. "And?"
"And now she lives in San Cristobal with her husband."
Those words swept into Martin's head often, like the artificial waves of the man-made beach at the Mandalay Bay resort, rising and falling lazily and uninspired, never really amounting to much. He was, however, not accustomed to hearing the words aloud. He tried hiding the hurt -- a poker face without a pair of cards in his hand.
Boz positioned himself in front of an imaginary golf ball on a tee that wasn't there and took short measured half-swings with the rake. He was Julian Bosworth, old money from Boston, private prep school, one semester at an ivy league institution -- and last week he'd suddenly detoured into the highlands of Chiapas.
Toru Adachi danced a three-step jig in the mud, finishing with an old-fashioned showgirl kick, using the farm tool for balance and style. He had quit dental school in Tokyo, abandoned his fiance in Osaka, fled Japan, and found refuge in the Mexican jungle.
Martin ceased hauling shit mixed with mud, hay and piss, and reached into his back pocket for a clear plastic bottle with green liquid. He sipped from it.
"I was engaged, too," said Toru, excited about the appearance of the herbal drink. "Harumi, a very pretty girl, she was in dental school like me, and rich. We were expected to marry, be great dentists, and have a big family."
"And?" inquired Boz.
"Well, I want to be a pastry chef and I love men."
Boz paused in the middle of his golf swing with the idle rake and smiled at Toru.
"I love the smell of horse shit, it reminds me of when my dad used to take me to horse races outside of Vegas. Wish we had beer, and music." Martin took a slow pull from the plastic bottle and noticed the edges of dark clouds hiding behind mountains. "Hey Boz, what are you doing here?"
“Five-hundred and nine years of indigenous resistance, dude! The first post-modern revolution! The war against neo-liberalism! Hey can I ask you another personal question?"
"Well I know you've been here a long time...but you don't seem very much into this."
"You mean the teaching? I'm bored with it already, I need to do something else." Martin placed the shovel in the involuntary hands of Toru, then picked up a brush, soap, and a bucket and began washing Bonita, a young white mare.
"Were you really a poker player in Vegas? Were you any good? Was it really your job or did you work elsewhere? Maybe you could teach me how to play, think so?"
“You just have to learn to lie and be willing to die, I mean lose. Then believe that there's always tomorrow."
"That doesn't sound like poker," said Boz.
The dense jungle hid the stables. Water splashed against Bonita's back and she kicked at the red mud, warning Martin. He brushed her with long strong strokes. Bonita was tied to a tree branch and tugged at the rope, testing the knot. Toru and Boz stored the tools in a wooden shed, then waited up the road. Martin was deliberate and thoughtful in returning the five shiny horses to their stables. He thought about his father who taught him the beauty of hard work, which Martin had always found a way to avoid.
A storm rolled down from the mountains and into La Realidad. Boz was first to react, pulling his t-shirt over his head, high-stepping uphill, hoping to avoid premature damage to his Eddie Bauer hiking boots. Toru turned to Martin, who was carrying hay and feed into the stables, then back to Boz, who was making little progress along the dirt trail, now erased and muddy.
Thick raindrops bounced against the creek as Osaka, Boston, and Vegas skidded to a halt, then stepped in, holding hands, fearful of the harmless current. Although completely soaked, they ran around puddles as they made their way home, searching for traction and shelter.
Their bungalow had room for two single beds and a hammock swinging near the entrance. Toru lay in the hammock and watched the preparations for the dance. A large blue tent went up and was soon filled with bamboo torches and the sounds of flutes and laughter. Martin paced five steps to the hammock, then back to the beds. Some nights he paced as if he were waiting for a ride. He sipped from the plastic bottle with green juice.
"What are you drinking?" asked Boz.
Martin handed the bottle to Boz, who sniffed and wet his lips. Toru snatched it from Boz, returned to the hammock, and sipped delicately, but often.
"Smells strong, like medicine," said Boz.
"It is medicine, I get it from a Zapotec doctor in San Blas Atempa. It has weeds and natural stuff, good for colds and opens the appetite."
"Do you miss Vegas?" asked Boz.
"I miss my apartment, you know, cable TV, hot showers, air conditioning, and mornings I miss lattes. Sometimes, late at night, I think about the pizza at the Venetian, In-n-Out burgers, the seafood buffet at the Bellagio...and yeah, I miss the action."
Boz sat on the floor, surrounded by his cell phone, laptop, and CD player, and unpacked his extra pair of hiking boots and wool blankets. "Hey Martin, I heard you came to the rebel zone because the zapatistas prohibit alcohol, gambling, and prostitution and that you're here to recover from all three."
"You forgot weed," said Martin.
"Weed is not a drug, man." Boz stood to look at a group of girls walking by, giggling, and shouting in Tzeltzal. "Is there anything I should know about these dances? You know, Mayan customs or rules or anything like that?"
"Just be yourself. Martin is not the right person to ask in this matter. He is..." Toru paused for effect. "One who likes to milk cows for free. Understand? He does not like to buy the cow."
"Boz, listen to me." Martin leaned out a window to watch indigenous children skip and dance in the rain. "The foreign women -- instructors and observers -- they're a collection of mixed nuts from a hundred nations and they come and go, so play at your own risk. And the Mayan girls, forget about it. The best you can hope for is to catch them bathing in the river. Oh, and if you think you're going to need privacy tonight --"
"Yeah, if you think you might close a deal, if you get lucky, if..."
"I get it."
"Don't go out in the woods or behind a bush or do anything you've seen in the movies. You know, snakes and nasty shit like that. Use your hammock, not my bed," said Martin.
Young Boz messed with his electronic gadgets while Martin paced.
Toru took a final sip from the plastic bottle while gaining momentum in the hammock, then launched himself toward the entrance of the bungalow. "Let's go, party time! Boz, leave your toys, let's boogie baby, come shake that moneymaker, whiteboy!"
Toru's English flowed under the spell of the Zapotec potion. He was the Mayan's favorite. They called him "white brother" because he looked like them and because he'd given up wealth in Japan to share pozol and tortillas with them. Boz, freakishly thin, was an odd thing to the indigenous since he came from the land of excess. Martin was also an enigma, with his reverse immigration, an American disguised as a Mexican, a professional gambler betting on the most improbable of victories -- Zapatismo over evil.
The indigenous of Chiapas kept most outsiders at an arm's length. Some mestizos, like Martin, won their way in. Despite a light brown complexion, like a plain donut or a White Russian in a shot glass, depending on the mood of the Aztlan sun, Martin claimed Zapotec blood.
Toru, Boz, and Martin joined the crowd gathered under the large blue tent. A short gray horse that resembled a mule was tied to a post and a Tojolabal insurgent, a captain in the Zapatista Army, sat on a dry log, held a cup of coffee and bit into a tamal. His name was Hilario. He'd been with EZLN since the first armed insurrection, when he was fourteen. Captain Hilario, at twenty-one, was a veteran. His rifle lay at his feet, against the log. Mula, his horse, carried an old green pack and a faded black flag with a red five-point star.
Word reached Martin that a zapatista captain requested his presence. He hurried across the soft dirt covered by the tent, sorting Tzeltales, Tzotziles, Choles, Mames, Tojolabales, Mayas Lacandones, Kanjobales and tourists. Hilario was being served rounds of garnachas, tamales, and strong coffee by a committee of women huddled around fire and pans. Martin approached, hesitant, considered a salute but thought better of it.
"Captain Hilario, Martin Saucedo at your service."
"Relax Martin, sit down and have a garnacha."
Martin lifted a garnacha from Hilario's tin plate and joined him on the dry log, away from the rifle. A woman in a red dress with a yellow apron brought Martin a cup of coffee. He wasn't hungry but worked on the garnacha anyway.
"A group of Irish insurgents have asked Subcomandante Marcos for a favor and Sup needs a volunteer."
"Yes, sir, I'm ready."
“Where are you from, Martin?"
"My father was born in Durango and my mother in Oaxaca."
I asked to speak with you because Lieutenant Maclovio said you were interested in work as a translator."
"Associates from Ireland are meeting with the Union of Young Communists in La Habana next week. Your assignment will include interpreting, guide, errands, whatever. I was informed that you have been to Cuba." Hilario, holding an empty plate, waved off women with more food and coffee.
"Yes, sir, I've been to Cuba several times. Thank you sir, I will do my best."
They stood, shook hands, and agreed to meet at first light. Hilario walked away, untied Mula, and both disappeared into the darkness.
The assignment from Captain Hilario seemed soft and unlikely to help his campaign for promotion into the ranks of EZLN. La Habana, Guanabo, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus, Santa Clara and Trinidad had treated him well in the past but he wasn't looking for a vacation, he needed a career change. Martin returned to the party.
Hours later a drizzle dropped the temperature to below 40 degrees and sent many into the bungalows. Young men, observers from the University of Chihuahua, sang Revolutionary songs. They'd violated the alcohol ban. An overflow of visitors and indigenous constructed a campfire near the bungalows. Martin and the students sat on the steps of the bungalow, sang and watched the fire dance behind cigarette smoke.
"Do you know any songs about Emiliano Zapata?" Yin Dyachenko, a Chinese-Russian semi-retired model and TV soap actress from Venezuela was ready to immerse herself in Mexican folkore.
"Why is it always about Zapata? What about my general? General Francisco Villa!" said Ignacio Pantera, more indignant than drunk. He wore a red villista flag across his back like a sarape. He'd gone to Chiapas against his parents' wishes, was orginally from Coahuila, and pursued a degree in computer engineering.
"Nachito, Zapata and Villa were in the same fight on each end of the country, both were equal in greatness, no?" Stefano Alberti was an Italian journalist and Marxist, traveling off the record with Yin, and filming a documentary of the rebellion with Ms. Dyachenko as host.
"That's a good one." Martin lit a cigarette. "Zapata or Villa...you can't go wrong with either, but if you had to pick one...I guess I'd have to put my money on General Villa, he was the big boss of the north, he controlled the railways, commerce between states, international trade, politics and publicity with the United States, he did business with Hollyood, married fifty times --"
"Zapata just appeared in the mountains, he was not born. He is Ik'al and Votan, the first gods who made the world. They walked the earth, one by day and the other by night. They came here and became one and gave themselves the name of Zapata," said Chinita, a stout Tzeltzal woman sitting with three other female insurgents on Toru's bed, their backs against the wall.
Chinita smiled at Martin, who appeared satisfied. The Tzeltzals spoke in glances and were economic with words.
"I vote for Che!" shouted Osvaldo Milagros, a poet and anthropologist from Buenos Aires, who'd been standing near the entrance to the bungalow, listening.
Osvaldo entered and shook hands with everyone, then stood in front of Yin and said, "My dear, you look so familiar."
"Hey Osvaldo, you're right, Che was a monster but he missed the indigenous issue, don't you think?" Ignacio leaned against the doorway, banging mud from his boots. He lit a cigarette and said, "Nobody has ever united all indigenous peoples before, not Zapata, not Villa, only Sup Marcos."
Martin put his arm around Ignacio and took away the cigarette and passed it to Chinita, who passed it to Toru.
"But Marcos does not want power, he wants to revolutionize the world's conscience," said Toru.
"Villa and Zapata did not want power, they were victorious then handed the reins to politicians. Fidel never made that mistake," said Stefano.
"Fidel is brilliant, he has police on every corner and the best doctors in the world. He will live until he is one-hundred and fifty," said Osvaldo.
"Imagine Marcos -- with his conditioning, climbing up and down these mountains for twenty years - with a few of Fidel's doctors he'd live for another hundred years." Martin took a long hit from his cigarette and passed it to Osvaldo.
"Capitalism would not survive another hundred years of Marcos." Chinita nudged her companions toward the doorway and kissed Martin good-night.