We were delayed in Toronto airport. Fuel was leaking onto the runway causing fear that the engine had sprung a leak. It took five hours to prove overzealous gas jockeys had overfilled the tank. The non-existent danger was averted and we were on our way. Of course, by the time we reached Houston, our connecting flight was long gone. We had to spend the night in a Houston hotel. Bad luck?
As it turns out – not.
My husband and I were heading down to our cottage on Utila, a tiny island off the coast of Honduras. Our eldest son was coming with us. He shouldn’t have been coming. He’s an artist and was in the middle of completing some work. He was on deadline but decided he could get it done in Utila. All he needed was his computer, Wacom, and no distractions. With no internet or television and only one neighbor, a lack of distractions is one of the few things we can count on in Utila.
At 9:45 that night we were getting ready for bed when our son knocked on our hotel room door. He’d been diligently working on his computer but his battery had just run out. When he went to plug it in he discovered he’d left his power cable back home in Toronto. It took us 10 minutes and a trip to the front desk to figure out what to do. Apparently there was a Best Buy minutes from the hotel. We googled it and put in a call. By now it was almost ten – closing time – but we assured them we were nearby and would be there soon. They agreed to wait while we cabbed over.
When the cab driver finally showed up, another complication arose. He said the Best Buy we’d called wasn’t minutes away; it was at least half an hour. There was a closer one but it hadn’t shown up on Google, so we’d called a more distant one. We suggested he take us to the nearby one but it was now ten o’clock and he said they definitely wouldn’t stay open for us. He’d been through this situation with other tourists. After some debate, he reluctantly agreed to take us to the distant Best Buy, though he assured us it was a wasted effort.
We pulled up at half past ten and there was an employee waiting with the cable. As my son went inside to pay, the taxi driver and I chatted in the car. “God was looking out for you tonight,” he said. His comment surprised me. It hadn’t occurred to me to connect God with our good luck, though it was undeniably a fortuitous series of close calls. If the flight delay hadn’t forced us to overnight in Houston, we definitely would not have been able to get the cable in Honduras. If my son’s battery had run out even minutes later than it did, the store would have been closed. If we’d called the closer store, according to the taxi driver, they wouldn’t have agreed to stay open.
But if God was looking out for us, then he must have had it in for other people on our flight. Seven people missed a connection to Africa that only went once a week. They were looking at six more nights in Houston.
The headhunters of Borneo believe that birds carry spirits of the dead to heaven. They sprinkle rice mixed with blood, from a specially blessed bowl, around a fresh grave to attract birds. Hornbills are considered particularly auspicious. I have one of their bloodstained bowls, though I’ve yet to use it.
In Russia, old women believe sitting on a cold surface causes infertility. I was scolded on many occasions if I sat on the ground. If I was foolish enough to let my children do it, or even sit on a cement wall, the babushkas would lift them up and place them in my lap. It was bad enough I was endangering myself.
In my village in northern Nigeria there was a young girl who was mentally ill. Her parents had turned her out of the house. They believed demons possessed her. Children would throw stones at her when she approached but when I went to the village market she would follow me. She’d learned, despite the entreaties of the villagers, that I would buy food for her and protect her while she ate.
There was a murder in Utila the last time we were here. It was senseless. A drug addict in a paranoid state knifed a local man on the main street. When we went to give our condolences, a young nephew said the family was concerned because this was the second death in their family. They were anticipating a third. He said in Utila it’s believed that death comes in threes. Utilans connect it to the rhythm of the waves, which they say also come in threes, though personally I’ve never noticed this to be the case.
I’ve had much occasion to watch the waves this trip. We’ve had four straight days of high winds and rain. I connect tropical storms with snakes. It began when we rented a villa in Thailand several years ago. It was the tail end of the monsoon and during one particularly rainy evening, our villa filled with snakes. I’m not fearful of snakes but there are over one hundred different varieties of poisonous snakes in Thailand and the monsoon had also disabled the electricity. A darkened house filled with poisonous snakes is discomfiting.
In Indonesia, on another rainy evening, I came downstairs to get a drink of water and found a boa constrictor stretched out at the foot of the stairs. I would have had to step over him to get to the kitchen. As it turned out I wasn’t that thirsty, but the next morning, desperate for a cup of coffee, I nervously descended the stairs again. I was relieved to the see the boa was no longer there and continued happily into the kitchen. He was curled up on the counter next to the coffee maker.
Two days into the Utila rains my husband found a boa in our downstairs shower. It was nowhere in sight yesterday but the watch dog was still barking furiously at the floorboards. I suspect it was hiding underneath. I connect boas with cunning.
I don’t know if God delayed our Toronto flight or killed my son’s battery just in time, or messed with Google so we called the wrong store which turned out to be the right one. I don’t know if hornbills carry spirits to heaven, or if demons possess young girls, or if death comes in threes, or if a cold surface can cause infertility. I do know we all try to order our world, make connections to explain what perhaps defies explanation and, while our own sense of order usually makes sense, the connections others make can seem downright fantastical. I don’t know if tropical rains really bring out snakes but I do know, when I got up this morning, I was relieved, and just a little surprised, not to see a boa constrictor next to the coffee maker.